Poverty, the Partisan Divide, and the Future of Democracy

Bob Sheak, May 3, 2021

bsheak983@gmail.com

Introduction

President Biden and his administration are advancing a progressive agenda to reduce poverty and inequality. It is an agenda that is in the tradition of the New Deal, only with more sensitivity and commitment to black Americans and other people of color. Biden and Democrats in the U.S. Congress have already passed the American Rescue Plan, the “first major legislative act under President Biden, at an estimated cost of $1.9 trillion. The plan, discussed in this post, is filled with a broad array of programs, some as broad as expanded aid to nearly every family with children and others as targeted as payments to Black farmers. Biden and the Democrats also have other plans to create jobs, support unionization, and increase government support for infrastructure programs.

However, Republicans and their allies and supporters will oppose them all. They have a long record of working to reduce or minimize the role that government plays, with certain exceptions such as on military spending. Certainly, they as well have a long-standing antagonism to social-safety net programs, a disdain for the poor, a love of low taxes, and, overall, support for a selectively small, deregulated federal government as well as the privatization of any government function that can yield a profit.

This post considers these two irreconcilable views, with a special focus on the issue of poverty. This is a conflict of epoch proportions, the outcome of which will be decided politically. The side that can marshal the support of the greatest number of voters will win. The Republicans are doing their utmost to find ways to suppress the vote of voters deemed favorable to Democrats.

Getting an idea of who the poor are

Poverty in the U.S. is complex, diverse and varies in its impact over time. One thing is clear. It affects a lot of people. The evidence indicates that a majority of people in the U.S. experience one or more spells of poverty during their lives, or times when they cannot afford or have access to the necessities of life in the U.S.

There are a range of experiences. At one end of the poverty spectrum, some people will experience only one short-term poverty spell (no more than a year). At the other end, some will continue persistently being poor for many years (5 or more years) (Mark R. Rank, et. al., Poorly Understood: What American Gets Wrong About Poverty).

In the first section of the book, Poorly Understood, the authors, Mark R. Rank, Lawrence M. Eppard and Heather E. Bullock, challenge the notions that poverty is experienced by only a small minority of the population, mostly people of color, who spend long continuous periods of time on welfare, and who live in inner-city neighborhoods.

The authors draw on evidence from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) as one important source for their analysis. They describe it as follows.

“The PSID is a nationally representative, longitudinal sample of households interviewed from 1968 onward. It has been administered by the Survey Research Center at the University of Michigan, and it constitutes the longest running panel data set both in the United States and the world. The PSID initially interviewed approximately 5,000 U.S. households in 1968, obtaining information on roughly 18,000 individuals within those households. These individuals have since been tracked annually (biennially after 1977), including children and adults who eventually break off from their original households to form new households…. The sample is representative of the entire nonimmigrant U.S. population” (p. 10).

By age 75, 58.5% of American will experience at least one spell of poverty below the official poverty line (which is adjusted for inflation each year). Sixty-eight percent will experience poverty below 125% of this line, and 76% will experience it below the 150% line (p. 11). The basic implication of these data is that poverty, low incomes according to the official measures, affects a majority of Americans by the time they reach the age of 75.

The best longitudinal research, including their own, also challenges the idea that most poor people are mired in a cultural of poverty that keeps them poor for many years, frequently their entire lives, and that it is typically intergenerational. Rank and his colleagues rebut this view, writing: “It turns out that a much more accurate picture is that poverty spells tend to be short but frequent.” They add: “within 1 or 2 years, the majority of people escaped from poverty. Within 1 year, 53% of new spells ended; 70% ended within 2 years, and more than three-fourths within 3 years” (p. 25).

The entrances and exits into poverty are “most often caused by changes in employment status and/or financial resources,” say “getting laid off from a job or having one’s hours cut.” There are other causes as well, such as, changes in family structure; for example, the birth of a child, divorce.

Welfare use?

The PSID data on welfare usage yield similar results. By age 65, 65% of Americans will have spent some part of a year getting benefits from a means-tested welfare program (e.g., Supplemental Nutrition Assistance [SNAP], Medicaid), while 58.7% will have been on welfare parts or the whole of two years, 54.2 percent for three years, 48.0% for four years, and 40.3 percent for 5 or more years (p. 13). The authors point out that “only 15.9 percent of Americans will reside in a household that receives a welfare program in 5 or more consecutive years” (p. 13).

The dynamics of welfare use

Some of the poor will hold jobs (part-time, intermittent, full-time) but not earn enough to lift them out of poverty. In some cases, people will find jobs that raise their income enough to lift them out of poverty for a time but then fall back into poverty. Others will remain poor permanently. However, the common pattern, already mentioned, is for people who experience poverty to move in and out of poverty. Welfare use follows the diverse paths of poverty, with short-term and long-term usage, though some do not ever obtain any benefits. The U.S. welfare state overall, and at least since the 1970s, is less generous than the social-welfare systems of most other “rich” countries. For documentation of the last point, see the extraordinarily well researched analysis by Lane Kenworthy in his book, Social Democratic Capitalism (publ. 2020).

Refuting other myths of poverty

Furthermore, as Rank and his colleagues find (chap. 5), there are at any given time more whites who are poor than blacks, though the poverty rate is greater for blacks than for whites. While there are concentrations of inner-city poverty, poverty increasingly exists in the suburbs and, as always, in rural areas. Some poverty conditions are as wretched as anywhere in the world (see examples in Catherine Coleman Flower’s book, Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret, and Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer’s book, $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America).

Conflicting Perspectives on the Poor and the causes of Poverty

Those on the political/ideological Right, view poverty as the result of bad choices and/or a culture of poverty. Either way, the poor are said to be responsible for their poverty. And most people, regardless of the conditions affecting their early years, can achieve a non-poverty standard of living with enough determination and hard work.

With perhaps exceptions for those with disabilities and old age, those experiencing poverty therefore do not deserve much or any public assistance. There is a Social Darwinist tilt to the thinking about poverty on the Right (e.g., the Republican Party). It is reflected in the opposition to social-welfare spending by the government and its preference for charity/philanthropy as the principal recourse for the deserving poor. This general attitude goes back to and echoes the harsh Elizabethan poor laws of the early 17th century, with its disdain and punitive treatment of the “undeserving” poor. Historian Michael B. Katz has documented this story in his remarkable books – The Undeserving Poor and In the Shadow of the Poorhouse. Aside from the CARES Act, Trump and his administration were well within this tradition, especially when it came to people of color.  

Centrist and progressive Democrats tend to view poverty as a result of a social system in which there are too few opportunities for some people to earn better-than-poverty wages, or to acquire adequate education, housing, and health care. When Democrats think of the roots of poverty – and inequality – they think of system- or institutionally-rooted problems.

From this view, the conditions and lack of opportunities that cause poverty is said to be the result of the decisions of corporate CEOs and their boards who outsource work to low-wage workers living in countries where there are low taxes and weak or nonexistent regulations. They fire workers who advocate for unions and subvert unionization drives. They designate workers as contract workers so they don’t have to pay for job-related benefits. During recessions, they lay off workers and then often replace them with lower-wage workers. They increasingly automate workplaces when they can. And they hire undocumented workers, to whom they can pay lower wages. They make sure that the executives and shareholders are well compensated while letting workers’ wages stagnate, as they have for decades.

The policies of government play a big role in the creation and continuation of widespread poverty. Consider the Republican Party’s role. When Republican have control of the White House and/or the Congress they cut back spending on the safety net, weaken unions, and imposed restrictive regulations on whom is eligible for benefits. Though some Democrats have done such things as well. Another, more radical view, is that the source of poverty can ultimately be traced to the corporate-dominated capitalist economy that is too unregulated, too privatized, where the rich are under-taxed, and where the economy is subject to regular contractions, and a government that is dominated by the interests of mega-corporations and the rich, so that we get a kind of socialism for the rich.

Both centrist and progressive Democrats see a pressing need to reform or radically change both the capitalist and state sectors, either incrementally (centrists) or structurally (progressives). Republicans favor the status quo.

The effects of poverty

The accumulation of disadvantages

Growing up in poor families create obstacles to the opportunities that may exist. Rank, Eppard and Bullock refer to the concept of “agency” in this context. They write: “True agency requires that individuals have their capabilities fully developed and that they have unobstructed access to important resources (economic, social, cultural, and so on).” They continue.

“All of these components are essential. Capabilities and resources have little use if one does not have access to opportunity pathways within which to utilize them. Likewise, it is difficult to make the most of opportunity pathways without the requisite capabilities and resources” (p. 138).

They add:

“A large body of research clearly demonstrates that the families we are born into, the neighborhoods and communities we grow up in, the schools we attend, the peer networks we are embedded in, the structural arrangement of our country of birth, and a variety of other important social contexts and forces combine to profoundly influence how much agency we ultimately possess.”

The forces that limit individual agency

We do not choose the social contexts and forces that shape us. And there are huge inequalities reflected in the vast range of social contexts and forces. On this point, they write: “high levels of inequality are built into the structure of our society due to the decisions that have been collectively made, and this inequality is getting worse.” The reference to “collectively made” is ambiguous and misleading.

The institutional and social arrangements that exist have been disproportionately influenced by the powerful and rich in the society. See, for example, the analysis by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson in their book, Let Them Eat Tweets: How the Right Rules in an Age of Extreme Inequality). And, then there is the long and devastating history of slavery, Jim Crow, and ongoing structural racism that still afflicts blacks and people of color, as well as many whites. Isabel Wilkerson documents the racism in U.S. history, as many others have, in her highly acclaimed book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. The point is that some few have been disproportionately responsible for the “collectively made” poverty that exists.

The Deprivations of the poor and near-poor are identified

Paul Buchheit points to evidence that half of America is in or near poverty and poverty has risen more sharply during the pandemic than at any time since the 1960s (https://commondreams.org/views/2021/02/22/2021-update-half-america-or-near-poverty).

He refers to the World Bank’s definition of poverty, which is a “pronounced deprivation in well-being.” In this sense of poverty, there are millions of Americans who are in severe deprivation. This is reflected, he writes, in the following examples: “millions of Americans who are unable to pay for medical treatment; who suffer the stress of delinquent rent and mortgage payments; who see a steady decline of jobs that pay enough to support a family; and who are victims of the surge in drug and alcohol and suicide “deaths of despair” that continue to increase among poor Americans during the COVID-19 crisis.”

Buchheit highlights his argument by referring to five examples of widespread deprivation in the U.S.

#1 – “The Majority of American Households Are Living Paycheck-to-Paycheck During the Pandemic.” He refers to a Washington Post summary of some of the evidence:  “According to Nielsen data, the American Payroll Association, CareerBuilder and the National Endowment for Financial Education, somewhere between 50 percent and 78 percent of employees earn just enough money to pay their bills each month….[this was] before the coronavirus pandemic….[since then] the number of first-time unemployment claims has exceeded 1 million per week, an unprecedented number in U.S. history.” Additionally, “an NPR review states that ‘survey after survey for years has found that most people in the U.S. live paycheck to paycheck.’ There is more. “Both Schwab’s 2020 Modern Wealth Survey and a recent Harris Poll found that a sizable majority of Americans are suffering financial stress during the pandemic. The American Psychological Association concurs. In Bankrate’s latest polling numbers, 6 out of 10 Americans would be unable to afford an unexpected $1,000 expense.”

#2 – “Half of Americans are experiencing food and rent insecurity”

Brookings reports that two in five households with mothers with pre-teen children

were food insecure, meaning that ‘a household has difficulty providing enough

food due to a lack of resources.’” With respect to rent, there are “twelve million

renters [who] owe an average of $5,600 in back rent and utilities. The $1,400

stimulus payment will help keep some housed for just a few months. The “rent and mortgage moratoriums will help some families, but they end in March and June, respectively. But then what?

#3 – “Over Half of Black and Latino Families Lack the Funds to Sustain Them for Three Months at a Poverty Level”

Researchers at Duke University have found that “57 percent of Black families with children and 50 percent of Latino families with children were poor in terms of net worth in 2019,” while the rate for white families was 24 percent. They have virtually no savings.

#4 – “Almost Half of America’s Children Live in Households that Can’t Meet Basic Expenses”

A Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey conducted in early 2021 found that In October 2020 “one out of every five American kids was living in poverty conditions. And it’s much worse for Black and Latino families. Incredibly, two out of three Black children (and slightly less for Latinos) live in households that “have trouble covering usual expenses.”

#5 – “According to One Careful Study, Over Half of Americans Are Trying to Survive Without Full-Time Living-Wage Jobs”

Buchheit refers here to a study by “Ludwig Institute for Shared Economic Prosperity, which considers part-time workers, those working full-time but earning too little to climb above the poverty line, and discouraged workers who’ve stopped looking for unemployment. As of December 2020, a full 53.9 percent of working-age Americans did not have living-wage full-time jobs.” A Brookings study
The CARES Act relief program made a difference

Buchheit reminds us that government has provided some assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially during the early stage of this epidemic. He refers to research on the impact of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act. Given scientific opinion, the magnitude of the pandemic, and the dire economic effects, even the Republicans in the U.S. Senate voted for the $2 trillion relief package. NPR staff reported that the Senate vote 96 to 0 in favor of the legislation, including most Republicans. The vote occurred after then “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) told lawmakers, “Our nation obviously is going through a kind of crisis that is totally unprecedented in living memory” (https://npr.org/2020/03/25/818881845/senate-reaches-historic-deal-on-2t-coronavirus-economic-relief-package).

According to Wikipeida, The CARES Act was touted as “a $2.2 trillion economic stimulus bill passed by the 116th U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump on March 27, 2020, in response to the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CARES_Act).

Specifically, the CARES Act included, according to Wikipedia, “$300 billion in one-time cash payments to individual people who submit a tax return in America (with most single adults receiving $1,200 and families with children receiving more), $260 billion in increased unemployment benefits, the creation of the Paycheck Protection Program that provides forgivable loans to small businesses with an initial $350 billion in funding (later increased to $669 billion by subsequent legislation), $500 billion in loans for corporations, and $339.8 billion to state and local governments.” (For a more detailed analysis, check out Leon LaBrecque’s article at https://forbes.com/sites/leonlabrecque/2020/03/29/the-cares-act-has-passed-here-are-the-highlights.

Some evidence

Buchheit cites research:  

“Researchers at Columbia University estimated that the support provided by the CARES Act, passed with bipartisan support maintained the U.S. poverty rate at a level about 30 percent lower than otherwise expected. Stimulus payments have kept us afloat. An overwhelming majority of Americans are in favor of further relief, and the Biden Administration is preparing a massive stimulus bill to accommodate a troubled populace.”

At the same time, such relief programs are limited, in that “for most Americans, stimulus checks will not sustain family needs for more than a few months.”

For the most part, Trump waged a war on poor people

Nathalie Baptiste and Jessica Washington compile evidence for this argument in a February 14, 2020, article for Mother Jones magazine (https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2020/02/trump-isnt-waging-a-war-on-poverty-hes-waging-a-war-on-the-poor). They report on Trump’s 2021 $4.8 trillion budget proposal that, if passed by Congress, “would further decimate the already weakened social safety net.” It calls for “steep cuts to food stamps, Medicaid, housing assistance, and other welfare programs that millions of Americans rely on.”

The weakening of an already limited social safety net did not begin with Trump, though he intensified its inadequacies. Baptiste and Washington put it this way: “The once-robust social safety net has been steadily dismantled by Republican and Democratic administrations alike. A series of actions, from Ronald Reagan’s fear-mongering about the government subsidizing luxurious lifestyles for welfare recipients to Bill Clinton’s welfare reform that imposed strict work requirement for benefit recipients, have made it tougher than ever to be poor in America. Now Trump is making it even harder.” 

With Democrats in control of the House in 2020, Trump’s budget did not have a chance of being passed into law. However, Trump had “already rolled out a series of bureaucratic changes that [had] begun to take a tangible toll on the country’s most vulnerable populations and will only inflict more damage in the coming years.”

“There’s been an emphasis on attacking the most vulnerable people in our nation,” says Alexandra Cawthorne Gaines, vice president of the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress. Baptiste and Washington give two examples of the programs that have “taken the biggest hit as a result of this administration’s war on the poor, the sick, and the elderly.”

Food Stamps

They write: “SNAP, which is administered by the US Department of Agriculture, feeds more than 40 million Americans each year. Food stamps are vital for low-income people and families and serve as an economic driver across the country, providing customers and revenue for small grocers.” Such food assistance was first instituted during the 1960s. It never provided by itself the means to acquire an adequately nutritional diet, but it was nonetheless significant.

The program became more restrictive under the Clinton administration, which instituted rules that began to make access to food stamps more difficult than earlier, and Trump would make it even harder. Here’s what Baptiste and Washington write.

“As part of Clinton’s welfare reform, able-bodied adults between the ages of 18 and 50 with no dependents were limited to three months of assistance before they had to prove that they were working at least 20 hours a week. At that point, their benefits would lapse, and they would have to meet certain requirements in order to become eligible again. In the past, governors of states with high unemployment rates could request waivers from the rule, and many able-bodied recipients were able to continue receiving food benefits. Now, the Trump administration’s new rule will tighten the requirements for waivers, making it close to impossible for states to request them. As a result, hundreds of thousands of people will lose SNAP eligibility and have to find new ways to make ends meet.”

Baptiste and Washington illustrate their point with the example of “Mr. Smith, a 45-year-old man living in Washington, DC, scrapes together what passes for a living selling a local newspaper as a street vendor, for which he earns $20 a day—on a good day. Each month, he receives $194 from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as SNAP or food stamps. Free meals at various churches and nonprofits are essential to bolster the food supply he is able to purchase. When he gets his benefits at the beginning of the month, he buys groceries in bulk, either foods he can store in his freezer or those with a long shelf life.

Mr. Smith says, “You have to budget. You have to be really frugal. You have to get three meals a day on $6 or $7.”

However inadequate, a new Trump administration rule, scheduled to be instituted on April 1 (2020), “will cause approximately 700,000 people across the country to be kicked off the SNAP rolls.” This was less than earlier number contemplated by the administration. All of this is done by executive order.

According to Mike Dorning, the rule changes were being considered for some months (https://time.com/5632313/trump-food-stamps-new-regulations). In July 2019, The Trump administration was already moving to end food stamp benefits for 3 million people with proposed new regulations curtailing the leeway of states to automatically enroll residents who receive welfare benefits.

Dorning quotes Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, [who] said the Agriculture Department’s action “is yet another attempt by this administration to circumvent Congress and make harmful changes to nutrition assistance that have been repeatedly rejected on a bipartisan basis.” Stabenow also said: “This rule would take food away from families, prevent children from getting school meals, and make it harder for states to administer food assistance.”

Dorning also quotes what Elaine Waxman, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, said in testimony last month to a House Agriculture subcommittee: “We particularly worry about food‐insecure households with kids and adolescents. Food insecure children have higher rates of fair and poor health, have higher rates of hospitalization, increased risk of asthma.”

Without SNAP, Mr. Smith isn’t sure how he’ll eat. And he knows what hunger is like. “You’re in survival mode instead of productive mode,” he says of his time without SNAP benefits. “You’re walking around like a bear foraging for food.” But even given SNAP’s limitations, “that three months of being able to eat is a life saver.”  

Cash Assistance

Baptiste and Washington also consider the background of cash assistance and how access to it has been steadily curtailed. The concept of supporting poor Americans with cash assistance was first established in 1935 as part of the New Deal, when the Great Depression sent 15 million Americans into poverty. (There was earlier a system of cash assistance through survivors’ insurance for Civil War veterans and their families, analyzed in great depth by Theda Skocpol in her book, Protecting Soldiers and Mothers: The Political Origin of Social Policy in the United States. It faded away as the survivors died.)

Over the subsequent decades, after the 1930s, welfare became a top target of Republican mockery, culminating in President Ronald Reagan’s ridicule of so-called “welfare queens” living large on the taxpayers’ dime. After Clinton’s welfare reform overhauled the program in 1996 and imposed work requirements, what was once welfare became known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF.

Today, they write, “22 of every 100 US families living in poverty receive cash assistance, down from 68 in 1996.”  They quote LaDonna Pavetti of the Center on Budget and Policy and Priorities who says the program only reaches “families who are really, really desperate and don’t have any other options.” Baptiste and Washington give this example.

 “For instance, a single woman with two children living in South Carolina and collecting TANF benefits receives just $292 each month in cash assistance. That doesn’t cover even a third of the state’s average rent for a two-bedroom home, which is $898. Even in states with more generous benefits—like New Hampshire, where that same family would get $1,066—it doesn’t cover rent for the average two-bedroom unit.

Richard Kogan and his colleagues at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities offer this additional information on the Trump administration’s proposed cuts in cash assistance (https://cbpp.org/research/federal-budget/cuts-to-low-income-assistance-programs-in-president-trumps-2020-budget-are).

“The 2020 budget would cut the TANF block grant and eliminate the related TANF Contingency Fund, a cut of $22 billion in fundingover the next decade. TANF provides funds to states for short-term income assistance, work programs, and other crucial supports for poor families with children. Such cuts conflict sharply with the budget’s rhetoric on promoting work opportunities for poor families.”

“Specifically, the budget would require states to spend at least 30 percent of federal and state TANF dollars on work activities, such as education, training, and subsidized employment; work supports, such as transportation assistance; child care; and assessment and provision of services such as case management. Half of that required spending (or 15 percent of the total) would have to be in work and training. But the budget doesn’t make any changes that would encourage states to serve the very families that could benefit from most those resources.

“While targeting more TANF funding to key program areas makes sense, the proposal is seriously flawed. Basic assistance (cash income support to needy families) is not included in the list of areas that would receive minimum targeted funding. The combination of less overall funding and new requirements for spending on work programs — without any requirement that state TANF programs fulfill the key mission of ensuring that very poor families with children can meet their most basic needs — could lead states to shift funds away from basic income assistance. That likely would push more families into severe hardship.”

The Democrats and Biden try to do better

The Democrat legislative proposals in 2020 after the CARES Act

The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed the HEROES act back in May 2020 and then several subsequent versions of it

Heroes stands for The Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act or Heroes Act (H.R. 6800)

According to the staff at Investopedia, US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi “unveiled [on May 12, 2020] a bill to fund a new round of relief spending to support the U.S. economy in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis and shutdown of wide swaths of the economy” (https://www.investopedia.com/democrats-usd3-trillion-coronavirus-relief-bill-4844752#the-heroes-act). On May 15, 2020, the Democratically-controlled House passed the bill by a vote of 208 to 199, largely on partisan grounds. And then, on Oct. 1, 2020, Democratic legislators passed an updated version of the bill, again with the same result.

In late December 2020, Congress did pass the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, “building on aspects of the earlier Cares Act from March 2020, including extending unemployment insurance payments.” Its price tag was $900 billion.

Sasha Abramsky reports that the Heroes bill “was aimed at delivering trillions of dollars of additional federal funds to support health care systems, unemployment benefits, housing assistance, nutritional programs, as well as money to keep cities and states, public transit systems, schools, and other vital infrastructure functioning. Since then, the House has passed several updated versions of the Act” (https://truthout.org/articles/ever-growing-millions-of-americans-face-eviction-and-hunger-will-congress-act).

Trump and the Republicans made all such Democratic initiatives appear to be partisan and opposed them, claiming that the Act would benefit “only ‘blue states and cities,’ They also hoped through the late spring and summer of 2020 [that] “the pandemic would simply vanish, and the tens of millions of unemployed people would all be able to return to work.” They opposed “expanded unemployment systems, senators such as Lindsey Graham argued that support-oriented measures would sabotage the labor market by providing people with disincentives to re-enter the workforce.” When the Republicans realized the pandemic was not going away, they embraced “much smaller stimulus packages,” and reframed their opposition to the Democrats’ HEROES Act as being fiscally responsible and as stopping the Democrats from funding profligately their favorite programs. All this led to a predictable and extension of “legislative stalemate.”

Meanwhile, Millions of Americans were driven or stayed in poverty or were barely making ends meet. Abramsky offers this summary.

“As a result, in the last weeks of 2020, absent quick congressional action and with the pandemic raging worse than ever, millions of Americans are [were] staring into an economic abyss. Somewhere in the region of 12 million people — millions of them gig workers who don’t qualify, in normal times, for unemployment; and millions more who are now considered to be long-term unemployed and who, again, in normal times would have maxed out their unemployment benefits — will lose their financial lifelines next month” [December 2020]

The problem is deeply rooted in the political-economic system, predates the pandemic, though has been made worse by it. It is reflected in the vastly unequal distributions of income and wealth, creating a situation in which “Three billionaires now possess the same amount of wealth as the bottom half of the U.S. population.” It is reflected in thesomewhere in the region of 13 million households that rent their homes are at risk of eviction once eviction moratoriums end over the coming months,” or that the number of people without health insurance had increased from 26.7 million in 2016 to 29.2 million by the end of 2019. A growing number of people are having difficulty putting enough food on the table. Groups monitoring hunger and food insecurity estimated that 37 million people fell into this category in early 2020. Today, Abramsky writes, “it is 54 million, or one in six Americans. Seventeen millions of these are children. Food banks around the country are reporting unprecedented demand.”

There is more. Abramsky gives examples of how public transit systems are collapsing and public education systems, many already strapped for money, are experiencing reductions in financial support.

Two Decades After the ‘End of Welfare,’ Biden and the Democrats Are Trying to Change Direction

This is the view advanced by Jim Tankersley and Jason DeParle (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/13/business-economy/child-poverty-stimulus.html). The article was updated on March 16.

They argue that the policy instituted by President Clinton’s administration, that “celebrated ‘the end of welfare as we know it,’ challenging the poor to exercise ‘independence’ and espousing balanced budgets and smaller government,” is coming to an end, as the current Democratic Party and the Biden administration moves “in the opposite direction.”

“Behind that shift,” they write, “is a realignment of economic, political and social forces, some decades in the making and others accelerated by the pandemic, that enabled a rapid advance in progressive priorities.” At the same time, they wonder how long this change in political direction will last. Here’s how the put it. “Whether the new law is a one-off culmination of those forces, or a down payment on even more ambitious efforts to address the nation’s challenges of poverty and opportunity, will be a defining battle for Democrats in the Biden era.”

The American Rescue Plan

The “first major legislative act under President Biden [is] a deficit-financed, $1.9 trillion ‘American Rescue Plan’ filled with programs as broad as expanded aid to nearly every family with children and as targeted as payments to Black farmers. While providing an array of benefits to the middle class, it is also a poverty-fighting initiative of potentially historic proportions, delivering more immediate cash assistance to families at the bottom of the income scale than any federal legislation since at least the New Deal.”

President Biden signed the plan into law on Thursday, March 11, 2021. Other temporary provisions in the law includes “include extended and expanded unemployment benefits, increased tax breaks for child care costs and an enlarged earned-income tax credit.”  Tankersley and DeParle report that researches say these antipoverty provisions will, among other benefits, “lift nearly six million children out of poverty.”

Propitious conditions led to the advance and passage of the plan. The authors point to a “summer of protests against racial injustice, and a coalition led by Black voters that lifted Mr. Biden to the White House and helped give Democrats control of the Senate, [putting] economic equity at the forefront of the new administration’s agenda.” The backers say that the passage of the plan marks “the beginning of an opportunity for Democrats to unite a new majority in a deeply polarized country, built around a renewed belief in government.”

Biden’s first 100 days – on the domestic side

Peter Baker reports that in his first nationally televised address to a joint session of Congress on April 28, 2021, Biden presented a vision of how he and his administration hope to shift “how the nation serves its people” (https://nytimes.com/2021/04/28/us/politics/joe-biden-government-plans.html).

As Baker puts it, “President Biden laid out an ambitious agenda on Wednesday night to rewrite the American social compact by vastly expanding family leave, child care, health care, preschool and college education for millions of people to be financed with increased taxes on the wealthiest earners.”

 It is a $1.8 trillion social spending plan,” titled the American Families plan, and is intended “to accompany previous proposals to build roads and bridges, expand other social programs and combat climate change. Biden’s vision of government is transformational and in the tradition of Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society and Roosevelt’s New Deal. Biden wants to “prove democracy still works, that our government still works and we can deliver for our people.”

But, as Baker points out, “the succession of costly proposals amounts to a risky gamble that a country deeply polarized along ideological and cultural lines is ready for a more activist government and the sort of redistribution of wealth long sought by progressives.” And this is occurring in a political context in which “Mr. Biden’s Democrats have only the barest of majorities in the House and Senate.”

Nonetheless, Biden can now point to the American Rescue Plan as a good start in moving his conception of government’s responsibilities forward, along with the progress his administration has facilitated in vaccinating millions of Americans against the Covid-19 virus.

The American Families Plan

The $1.8 trillion “American Families Plan,” as Biden called his latest proposal, would follow the “American Rescue Plan,” and the proposed “American Jobs Plan,” a $2.3 trillion program for infrastructure, home health care and other priorities, is pending.

Baker describes some of the features of the American Families Plan. It includes $1 trillion in new spending and $800 billion in tax credits. It would finance universal prekindergarten for all 3- and 4-year-olds, a federal paid family and medical leave program, efforts to make child care more affordable, free community college for all, aid for students at colleges that historically serve nonwhite communities and expanded subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.” In addition, it would “extend key tax breaks included as temporary measures in the coronavirus relief package [the already enacted Family Rescue Plan] that benefit lower- and middle-income workers and families, including the child tax credit, the earned-income tax credit, and the child and dependent care tax credit.”

The American Families Plan is to be financed by progressive taxes, including an increase in the marginal income tax rate for the top 1 percent of American income earners, to 39.6 percent from 37 percent. His plan also calls for “increases in capital gains and dividend tax rates for those earning more than $1 million a year. And he would eliminate a provision in the tax code that reduces capital gains on some inherited assets, like vacation homes, that largely benefits the wealthy.”

It is clear that Biden’s plans, if they should become law, would, among other effects, have the effect of reducing poverty. Yet another plan is “For Strengthening Worker Organizing, Collective Bargaining, and Unions”

(https://joebiden.com/empowerworkers). Unions have helped to keep wages up, win medical, pension, and paid vacation time, and have overall been a major force in the Democratic Party. For an in-depth analysis of unions, see Michael D. Yates book Why Unions Matter.

Strengthening Worker Organizing, Collective Bargaining, and Unions

This pro-worker, pro-union plan opens as follows.

“Strong unions built the great American middle class. Everything that defines what it means to live a good life and know you can take care of your family – the 40-hour workweek, paid leave, health care protections, a voice in your workplace – is because of workers who organized unions and fought for worker protections. Because of organizing and collective bargaining, there used to be a basic bargain between workers and their employers in this country that when you work hard, you share in the prosperity your work created.

“Today, however, there’s a war on organizing, collective bargaining, unions, and workers. It’s been raging for decades, and it’s getting worse with Donald Trump in the White House. Republican governors and state legislatures across the country have advanced anti-worker legislation to undercut the labor movement and collective bargaining. States have decimated the rights of public sector workers who, unlike private sector workers, do not have federal protections ensuring their freedom to organize and collectively bargain. In the private sector, corporations are using profits to buy back their own shares and increase CEOs’ compensation instead of investing in their workers and creating more good-quality jobs. The results have been predictable: rising income inequality, stagnant real wages, the loss of pensions, exploitation of workers, and a weakening of workers’ voices in our society.

“Biden is proposing a plan to grow a stronger, more inclusive middle class – the backbone of the American economy – by strengthening public and private sector unions and helping all workers bargain successfully for what they deserve.” Indeed, during the 1930s-1960s, unions played a major role in the New Deal Coalition that expanded “the middle class” and reduced poverty for blacks as well as whites. 

The specific goals of the pro-unions plan are to: (1) “Check the abuse of corporate power over labor and hold corporate executives personally accountable for violations of labor laws”; (2) “Encourage and incentivize unionization and collective bargaining”; and (3) “Ensure that workers are treated with dignity and receive the pay, benefits, and workplace protections they deserve.”

To get a sense of this plan, just consider the substance of the first goal, that is, to “Check the abuse of corporate power over labor.”

Workers are said to be more essential to the economy than CEOs and hedge fund managers.

“While we could survive without Wall Street and investment banks, our entire economy would collapse without electricians to keep our lights on, auto workers on the line building our cars, drivers who deliver all things we need for our daily lives to our markets, firefighters, ambulance drivers, service workers, educators, and millions more.”

Despite the importance of workers, “employers steal about $15 billion a year from working people just by paying workers less than the minimum wage. On top of that, workers experience huge losses in salary caused by other forms of wage theft, like employers not paying overtime, forcing off-the-clock work, and misclassifying workers. At the same time, these companies are raking in billions of dollars in profits and paying CEOs tens and hundreds of millions of dollars.” 

Furthermore: “employers repeatedly interfere with workers’ efforts to organize and collectively bargain. In nearly all union campaigns, corporations run a campaign against the union. Three in four employers hire anti-union consultants, spending approximately $1 billion each year on these efforts. Corporations fire pro-union workers in one of every three union campaigns and about half of corporations threaten to retaliate against workers during union campaigns. Even workers who successfully are able to form a union are later impeded by corporations who bargain in bad faith. About half of newly organized groups of workers do not have a contract a year later and one in three remain without a contract two years after a successful union election.”

Biden’s plan “will ensure employers respect workers’ rights,” holding “corporations and executives personally accountable for interfering with organizing efforts and violating other labor laws.” Along these lines, “Biden strongly supports the Protecting the Right to Organize Act’s (PRO Act) provisions instituting financial penalties on companies that interfere with workers’ organizing efforts, including firing or otherwise retaliating against workers.”

At the same time, “Biden will go beyond the PRO Act by enacting legislation to impose even stiffer penalties on corporations and to hold company executives personally liable when they interfere with organizing efforts, including criminally liable when their interference is intentional.” 

Additionally, Biden “will direct the U.S. Department of Labor to engage in meaningful, collaborative enforcement partnerships, including with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Internal Revenue Service, the Justice Department, and state tax, unemployment insurance, and labor agencies. And, while Trump has weakened enforcement by sabotaging the enforcement agencies and slashing their investigator corps, Biden will fund a dramatic increase in the number of investigators in labor and employment enforcement agencies to facilitate a large anti-misclassification effort.”

There is more. The plan will stop federal dollars from flowing “to employers who engage in union-busting activities, participate in wage theft, or violate labor law,” and ensure federal contracts only go to employers who sign neutrality agreements committing not to run anti-union campaigns.” And companies that bargain in bad father will be penalized.

Biden’s proposal, “For Strengthening Worker Organizing, Collective Bargaining, and Unions,” is radical in its vision of bringing greater equality and justice to the workplaces of America. The potential political costs are great. If corporate America throws its support to the Republican Party, now under the sway of Trump, the challenge of getting Democrats elected and reelected in 2022 and 2024 will be greater than in 2020.

The Biden administration has already taken steps to reduce hunger.

Jason DeParle reports that, via an executive order in January, “the Biden administration is accelerating a vast campaign of hunger relief that will temporarily increase assistance by tens of billions of dollars and set the stage for what officials envision as lasting expansions of aid.” The need is great, with “more than one in 10 households reporting that they lack enough to eat” (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/04/us/politics/biden-hunger-programs.html).

Biden “has increased food stamps by more than $1 billion a month, provided needy children a dollar a day for snacks, expanded a produce allowance for pregnant women and children, and authorized the largest children’s summer feeding program in history.”

The campaign is driven, DeParle posits, “both by the spread of hardship to more working-class and white families and the growing recognition of poverty’s disproportionate toll on minorities. With hunger especially pronounced among Black and Latino households, vital to the Democrats’ coalition, the administration is framing its efforts not just as a response to pandemic needs but as part of a campaign for racial justice.”

And scenes of crowded food banks have provided additional incentives for action. De Parle refers to a “recent Census Bureau survey [which] found that, over the previous week alone, 8.4 percent of adults said their households ‘sometimes’ lacked enough to eat and 2.3 percent said they ‘often’ did. That translates into 23 million hungry adults, plus millions of children.”

Concluding thoughts

Joe Biden and his administration are advancing an agenda that will, if implemented, will provide enormous benefits to poor, working class, and lower middle-class Americans. It will also generate an enormous negative reaction from the corporate community, the rich, many in the top ten or so percent of the income distribution, the Republican Party, the right-wing media, and, of course, Trump, who will find ways to rile up his army of unquestioning followers against Democrats. Republicans in the U.S. Senate will use the filibuster when then can to stymie virtually any legislative initiative from the Democrats. Republican governors and legislators in many states are already instituting rules that are designed to further suppress the vote of their Democratic opponents, with the 2022 and 2024 elections in mind.

In pursuing a progressive agenda, Biden seems to be betting that he and the Democratic Party can hold onto most of the voters who turned out for them in the 2020 elections and increase the support they get from white working-class voters. This will depend on the organizing and educational efforts of liberal and progressive organizations, the ability to raise money for campaigns, the state of the economy, whether the pandemic has been brought under control, and whether the Democrats can find ways to pass some of Biden’s proposals in 2021 and 2022.

The stakes are enormous, for the poor, the working class, broad swaths of the middle class, for people of color, for women, for children, and for those who seek viable options in their gender identities. It comes down to whether justice and democracy will be strengthened or weakened. If the latter, anti-democratic and authoritarian forces in the society are likely to expand and become consolidated under the autocratic-aspiring Trump.

On the other hand, the threats to justice and democracy and the Biden/Democratic agenda may be sufficient enough to convince voters to cast their ballots for Democrats in upcoming elections.  

Biden and the Military-Industrial Complex

Biden and the Military-Industrial Complex

Bob Sheak, April 19, 2021

Foreword

Since Eisenhower identified and warned about a military-industrial complex in his farewell address on January 17, 1961, the corporate and military interests that make it up have always lobbied for increases in the military budget. The “cold war” provided the principal rationale for high-levels of military spending up to 1989, but, after the demise of the Soviet Union and then the attacks in the U.S. on 9/11, the new rationale became a “war on terrorism,” a war that knows no boundaries. In the years following 2001, the U.S. defense budget increased from 2001 through 2012, declined in 2013, and resumed increasing through the last years of the Obama administration and then robustly under Trump.  

In this post, I consider the reasons for the growth of the military-industrial complex, Eisenhower’s warning, how the US military has become a “mass killing” machine globally, the full magnitude of military and military-related spending, Biden’s proposal – with few details – to increase at a much-reduced rate the military budget, along with many ideas on how spending on the military budget may be significantly decreased. 

If Biden fails to achieve diplomatic agreements with Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and if he fails to find ways to eliminate the waste and unnecessary and unreliable big weapons programs from the budget, then we will most likely see a continuation of a growing military-industrial complex, accompanied by a new and more lethal “cold war” and the relative lack of funds to deal with such existential threats as “climate change.” The emphasis in this post is on how to reduce military spending and thus the power of the military-industrial complex.

Introduction

The sheer size of the U.S. military makes it a major issue for any analysis of the federal government’s budget, the military’s economic and political power in U.S. society, whether it operates efficiently and with minimum waste, its employment effects, its environmental impacts, the military factor in foreign policy, the militarization of the domestic police force, and whether it is meaningfully accountable to any government agency outside itself. My concern is that the U.S. military-industrial complex is too big and too politically powerful and that, as such, weakens our already limited and tenuous democracy, does more to undermine international cooperation than to advance it, and too often creates the very conditions that foment violence, conflict, the shattering of whole states, extensive death and destruction, and the massive and increasing numbers of refugees we now witness. This is all so clear in the cases on American military wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, and in virtually every military intervention the US has engaged in since WWII, certainly since 9/11. There is a clear imperialistic aspect in all of this, as the U.S. tries to keep other countries, especially underdeveloped countries, open to U.S. corporate profit-making, corporate-biased trade, cheap labor, and minerals and other resources.

The Pentagon and the main actors in the federal government continuously find justifications for not only maintaining the status quo but increasing the military’s bloated budget. Islamic terrorism has since September 11, 2001 been the principal justification for this position. There is little compelling analysis in the major media of how U.S. foreign policies and military interventions have served to create the conditions for the rise and growth of this terrorism. There are also other alleged threats to U.S. national security, including those posed by Russia and China, that are used to justify keeping the military-industrial complex large and growing. Some policymakers trumpet the need to overthrow “authoritarian” and “repressive” governments. All such justifications have variously played a role in favor of keeping the military big and strong. At the same time, U.S. leaders maintain supportive relations with authoritarian and repressive regimes when it serves the interests of the U.S. government and corporations that produce military weapons. Saudi Arabia is one blatant example of this hypocrisy.  

Eisenhower refers to the idea of “the military-industrial complex”

Three days before President Eisenhower left office on January 17, 1961, he addressed the “American people” by radio and television. One of the most notable and memorable parts of the speech is when the president talks about the political and economic concerns he had about the growth of the military-industrial complex. Here is what he said.

“Until the latest world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.

“The conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American Experience. The total influence – economic, political, even spiritual – is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

“We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense without peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together” (http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=12086).

The speech was given in a troubled and somewhat unique historical time. Eisenhower was concerned about how we would, as a country, achieve some reasonable balance between national defense, the domestic economy, the material well-being of citizens, and democracy. One thing is clear. He was not saying that the military-industrial complex had to be curtailed. Indeed, he emphasized the country would have to maintain strong military forces and the industrial capacity to ensure their strength. The implication was that this emergent military-industrial complex was going to be a permanent fixture in American society. But citizens must remain vigilant to keep it from going too far.

Context

Remember this was a time when the cold war had already reached ominous heights. The Soviet Union had nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them. On October 4, 1957, the Soviets had launched the first satellite into space. The Korean War had ended in a divided Korea involving a truce, not a peace agreement. And China was now under the rule of a communist party led by Mao Tse-Tung . John Kennedy came into office later that January 1961 believing falsely that the U.S. suffered from a “missile gap” vis a vis the Soviets, which became another justification for increasing the military budget.

According to later revelations in The Pentagon Papers, the U.S. government and military establishment were concerned from the end of WWII that Vietnam should not fall under the control of the nationalist forces in North Vietnam led by the nationalist hero Ho Che Minh. Consequently, Truman and then Eisenhower supported the recolonization of the country by the French after WWII. Then in 1955, after the French occupation was overthrown, the U.S. helped to prevent a democratic vote by Vietnamese from all parts of Vietnam to unify the country and instead supported a puppet, unpopular administration in South Vietnam.

After Eisenhower left office in 1961, the next administrations under Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon (for much of his administration) were bent on preventing the nationalist/communist regime in North Vietnam from taking control of the entire country. They feared such a turn of events would lead to a “domino effect,” that is, that revolutionary movements in Indonesia and other parts of Southeast Asia would fall to communists, though better identified as nationalists and anti-colonialists. When developments in Vietnam turned against the U.S. backed regimes, President Johnson and his military advisers lied about an attack on American ships that never took place (the Tonkin Gulf incident), and used it as a pretext to vastly escalate the misbegotten, tragic, brutal, terribly destructive, and costly war. These historical events are captured well in John Marciano’s book The American War in Vietnam: Crime or Commemoration?

In Cuba, revolutionary forces led by Fidel Castro had in 1959 overthrew the Batista-ruled government, which had been favored and supported by the U.S., including the Eisenhower administration. There were also anti-colonial, anti-imperialist, movements in Africa and other parts of the underdeveloped countries of the world (e.g., Indonesia, Central America, Guatemala). From the perspective of Eisenhower and others in leadership positions, the turmoil in the Third World was being caused by an expansionist communist movement under the direct influence of the Soviet Union. Thus, U.S. foreign/military policies rested on the assumption that the U.S. had to do its utmost to prevent the success of leftist, nationalist, revolutionary forces wherever they emerged, thus giving the U.S. government more justifications to maintain a powerful U.S. military-industrial complex with both the most modern conventional forces and with a growing arsenal of nuclear weapons.

Bear in mind that the U.S. has always used its military forces to advance a certain conception of its national interests. U.S. military forces were used to protect the expansion of American colonists into Native American lands, and in the process killed millions. This goes back to the earliest years of the country. This “manifest destiny” is also exemplified in the 1846-1848 U.S. war with Mexico and resultant massive land acquisition that accompanied it – adding 500,000 square miles of Mexican territory to America. The U.S. Civil War was a boon to the incipient U.S. armaments industry. Then there were interventions in the late 19the century in Central America, the Philippines, Hawaii, and elsewhere. The U.S. has never been without a military and an expansionist, imperialistically-leaning foreign policy, though the military-industrial complex, as referred to by Eisenhower, did not emerge fully until during and after WWII. It was then spurred in the late 1940s by the “threat” posed by the Soviet Union and “communism,” the cold war that followed, resting on the lunatic doctrine of “mutual mass destruction, and the anti-colonial upheavals in South America, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. Of course, there is the tragedy of 9/11 and the subsequent justifications and lies for invading Afghanistan and Iraq and for mounting costly wars against “terrorism.”

Underlying it all, the U.S. government has been concerned with protecting and advancing American corporate interests and their access to minerals, fossil fuels, land, and militarily strategic locations as well as to keeping friendly, often un-democratic governments in power. Of course, this dependence on a military-industrial complex is ever-more challenging in a multipolar world in which competition for scarce resources and military advantage involves an increasing number of countries, most importantly China.

In this context, resource-rich Africa has become the arena for such competition. Nick Turse gives us some idea of how Africa is the renewed focus of U.S. military involvement in his book, Tomorrow’s Battlefield: US Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa. Here’s a sample of what he finds in the years of the Obama administration related to Africa, but one of only a host of places where U.S. was involved in ongoing wars (e.g., Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya), counter-insurgency operations, the proliferation of military bases in hundreds of countries, most of them in underdeveloped countries.

“Over the course of the Obama presidency, American efforts on the [African] continent have become ever more militarized in terms of troops, bases, missions, and money. And yet from Libya to the Gulf of Guinea, Mali to [the] camp in South Sudan, the results have been dismal. Countless military exercises, counterterrorism operations, humanitarian projects, and training missions, backed by billions of dollars of taxpayer money, have all evaporated in the face of coups, civil wars, human rights abuses, terror attacks, and poorly coordinated aid efforts. The human toll is incalculable. And there appears to be no end in sight” (p. 184).

“America as emperor of weaponry”

Big weapons from big weapons makers

In an article published on April 13, 2021, Tom Engelhardt uses this phrase to argue that the United States can be thought of as a “mass-killing machine.” He refers to the military aspects of the U.S. as “Slaughter Central (https://tomdispatch.com/slaughter-central). Unsurprisingly, the top arms makers in the world are located in the U.S., namely, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and General Dynamics. He continues his point, referring to examples of the ever-growing lethality of weapon systems.

“…we’re a killer nation, a mass-murder machine, slaughter central. And as we’ve known since the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, there could be far worse to come. After all, in the overheated dreams of both those weapons makers and Pentagon planners, slaughter-to-be has long been imagined on a planetary scale, right down to the latest intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) being created by Northrop Grumman at the cost of at least $100 billion. Each of those future arms of ultimate destruction is slated to be “the length of a bowling lane” and the nuclear charge that it carries will be at least 20 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. That missile will someday be capable of traveling 6,000 miles and killing hundreds of thousands of people each. (And the Air Force is planning to order 600 of them.)”

By the end of this decade, Engelhard reports, the “new ICBM is slated to join an unequaled American nuclear arsenal of presently 3,800 warheads.”

“Cornering the Arms Market” abroad in guns

More from Engelhardt: “…when it comes to arming other countries, Washington is without peer. It’s the weapons dealer of choice across much of the world. Yes, the U.S. gun industry that makes all those rifles for this country also sells plenty of them abroad and, in the Trump years, such sales were only made easier to complete (as was the selling of U.S. unmanned aerial drones to “less stable governments”). When it comes to semi-automatic weapons like the AR-15 or even grenades and flamethrowers, this country’s arms makers no longer even need State Department licenses, just far easier-to-get Commerce Department ones, to complete such sales, even to particularly abusive nations. As a result, to take one example, semi-automatic pistol exports abroad rose 148% in 2020.”

“Big ticket” weapons

The five big U.S. weapons producers export for sale, Engelhard writes, “jet fighters like the F-16 and F-35, tanks and other armored vehicles, submarines (as well as anti-submarine weaponry), and devastating bombs and missiles, among other things, we leave our ‘near-peer’ competitors as well as our weapons-making allies in the dust. Washington is the largest supplier to 20 of the 40 major arms importers on the planet.” The Middle East has been the destination for nearly half the arms market between 2015 and 2019. Engelhardt cites Pentagon expert William Hartung, whose research found that during these years “U.S. arms deliveries to the region added up to ‘nearly three times the arms Russia supplied to MENA [the Middle East and North Africa], five times what France contributed, 10 times what the United Kingdom exported, and 16 times China’s contribution.” (And often enough, as in Iraq and Yemen, some of those weapons end up falling into the hands of those the U.S. opposes.)” Overall, this $178 billion export trade in 2020, supplied “no fewer than 96 countries with weaponry and controls 37% of the global arms market (with, for example, Lockheed Martin alone taking in $47.2 billion in such sales in 2018, followed by the four other giant U.S. weapons makers and, in sixth place, the British defense firm BAE).

Troops and bases and drones around the globe

Engelhard again sums it up incisively: “…this country has a historic 800 or so military bases around the world and nearly 200,000 military personnel stationed abroad (about 60,000 in the Middle East alone).” He continues: “It has a drone-assassination program that extends from Afghanistan across the Greater Middle East to Africa, a series of ‘forever wars’ and associated conflicts fought over that same expanse, and a Navy with major aircraft carrier task forces patrolling the high seas. In other words, in this century, it’s been responsible for largely uncounted but remarkable numbers of dead and wounded human beings.” He refers to “Brown University’s invaluable Costs of War Project [which] has estimated that, from the beginning of the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 to late 2019, 801,000 people, perhaps 40% of them civilians, were killed in Washington’s war on terror in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere.” (The estimate by the Costs of War Project probably underestimates the true extent of the carnage.)

Not all were killed by the U.S. military and some were “American soldiers and contractors.” Nonetheless, “the documented civilian dead from American air strikes in the war years is in the many thousands, the wounded higher yet. (And, of course, those figures don’t include the dead from Afghan air strikes with U.S.-supplied aircraft.) And mind you, that’s just civilians mistaken for Taliban or other enemy forces.” Engelhardt cites investigations by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, “which followed U.S. drone strikes for years, [and] estimated that, in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen, by 2019 such attacks had killed “between 8,500 and 12,000 people, including as many as 1,700 civilians — 400 of whom were children,” while “displacing an estimated 37 million people.”

Military spending – the fuel of the military-industrial complex

 The military budget, adjusted for inflation, has gone up and down, since the Eisenhower years, though it has always been a significant part of the federal budget. It rose in the 1960s during the Vietnam War, declined during the 1970s, and rose again during the Reagan years. Then, in the aftermath of the demise of the Soviet Union and during the Clinton years, military spending fell. Then it increased in the Bush years and the first years of Obama, reflecting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. (See http://earlysignal.com/2015/02/14/history-defense-spending-one-chart.) The base military budget increased during the years of the Trump administration (https://thebalance.com/u-s-military-budget-components-challenges-growth-3306320).

Where do we stand at the onset of the Biden era with respect to military spending?

Kimberly Amadeo delves into the components of the US military budget, as of Sept 3, 2020 (that is, the last Trump proposal), and considers why the official military spending account is under-stated (https://thebalance.com/u-s-military-budget-components-challenges-growth-3306320).

She estimates military spending to be $934 billion in the last Trump budget, covering the period October 1, 2020, through September 30, 2021.” This is much more, she writes, “than the $705 billion outlined by the Department of Defense alone2.” Continuing: “The United States has many departments that support its defense. All these departments must be included to get an accurate picture of how much America spends on its military operations.” To fully grasp the full amount of military spending, “you need to look at four components,” she maintains. There is also a fifth component that Amadeo recognizes but doesn’t include in her total military spending count has been a major contributor to the national debt – and the interest on that debt. Here I quote from Amadeo’s article.

“First is the $636 billion base budget for the Department of Defense. Second is $69 billion in overseas contingency operations for DoD to fight the Islamic State group. These two, added together, total the $705 billion budgeted by the DoD.

“Third is the total of other agencies that protect our nation. These expenses are $228 billion.3 They include the Department of Veterans Affairs ($105 billion). Funding for the VA has been increased by $20 billion over 2018 levels. That’s to fund the VA MISSION Act to the VA’s health care system. The other agencies are: Homeland Security ($50 billion), the State Department ($44 billion), the National Nuclear Security Administration in the Department of Energy ($20 billion), and the FBI and Cybersecurity in the Department of Justice ($9.8 billion).4

“Additional funding goes to each department for readiness development. This includes $31 billion to the Army, $48 billion to the Navy, and $37 billion to the Air Force.

Service members will receive a 3% pay raise and an increase in their housing allowance. Family members receive $8 billion for child care, education, and professional development.

DoD will spend $21 billion on building maintenance and construction.”

The fifth component: Military spending, the national debt, and interest on the debt

In an article for the “Costs of War” project at the Watson Institute, Brown University, Heidi Peltier takes up this issue of how the military adds to the national debt and the interest that is paid on it. As indicated earlier, the interest can be added to the four components of military spending about which Amadeo writes (https://watson-brown.edu/costsofwar/files/cow/imce/papers/2020/Peltier%202020%20-%20The%Cost%20of%Debt-finance%20War.pdf).

By January 2020, through the “18 years the U.S. has been engaged in the ‘Global War on Terror,’ mainly in Iraq and Afghanistan, the government has financed this war by borrowing funds rather than through alternative means such as raising taxes or issuing war bonds.” This means that “the costs of the post-9/11 wars include not only the expenses incurred for operations, equipment, and personnel, but also the interest costs on this debt.”

The result is that, since 2001, “these interest payments have been growing, resulting in more and more taxpayer dollars being wasted on interest payments rather than being channeled to more productive uses.” Peltier calculates “that the debt incurred for $2 trillion in direct war-related spending by the Department of Defense and State Department has already resulted in cumulative interest payments of $925 billion. Even if military interventions ceased immediately, interest payments would continue to rise, and will grow further as the U.S. continues its current military operations.”

Peltier adds: “When war is financed through debt, the costs are much greater than when it is financed through taxation or other revenues, since interest payments must be made as long as the debt is outstanding. In fact, interest payments can sometimes grow to beyond the level of the debt itself, as will likely be the case with the post-9/11 wars. If war spending ceased immediately, interest payments on the $2 trillion of existing war debt would rise to over $2 trillion by 2030 and to $6.5 trillion by 2050. These interest payments will grow larger as the U.S. continues its post-9/11 military interventions and continues amassing debt to pay for the costs of war.”

Biden requests $715B for Pentagon, hinting at administration’s future priorities

First iteration of Biden’s “defense” budget

Aaron Mehta and Joe Gould report forDefense News that “Joe Biden’s fiscal 2022 budget request asks for $753 billion in national security funding, an increase of 1.6 percent that includes $715 billionfor the Defense Department.” A large part of the $38 billion part of the $752 billion, that is the difference between $753 billion and $715 billion, is for the Energy Department that “handles nuclear warheads” (https://defensenews.com/breaking-news/2021/04/09/biden-requests-715b-for-pentagon-hinting-at-administrations-future-priorities). The national security spending, as conceptualized here, does not include many of the military-related spending components about which Amadeo writes.

Insofar as the DOD component is concerned, the $715 billion “amounts to a slight decrease for the Pentagon when adjusted for inflation, and it’s well shy of the Trump administration’s projected $722 billion request for FY22.” At the same time, Biden wants to boost nondefense spending by 16 percent, to $769 billion.”

With respect to defense spending, a portion of the money “is to pay for the pay raise for men and women in uniform, and then the civilians that support them.” An administration official told reporters, according to Peltier, that the defense budget is sufficient to ensure that “the Defense Department he can continue its strategic goals as we outcompete China, and as we ensure that the men and women in uniform have everything that they need.” There will be money spent on shipbuilding, “which dovetails with the Pentagon’s focus on China and Indo-Pacific,” and includes the recapitalization of the Nation’s strategic ballistic missile submarine fleet, and invests in remotely operated and autonomous systems and the next generation attack submarine program.” There is also money “to update information and cybersecurity systems, which will include ‘$500 million for the Technology Modernization Fund, an additional $110 million for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, and $750 million as a reserve for Federal agency information technology enhancements.’”

Identifying how to reduce the Pentagon’s budget

What would it take to reduce the influence and impacts of the military-industrial complex, while at the same time maintaining a credible military position internationally? For one thing, it would require that we eliminate unreliable and costly weapons systems. There are many views on how to do this. Here are some examples.

Example – William Hartung, a defense analyst who covers the economics of Pentagon spending, refers to the proposals “contained in a new letter to key members of Congress from a coalition of over two dozen groups from across the political spectrum (my organization, the Center for International Policy, is a signatory of the letter)” (https://forbes.com/sites/williamhartung/2021/03/24/theres-plenty-of-room-to-reduce-the-pentagon-budget/?sh=17ab002e2001).

In the letter, the signatory groups outline “roughly $80 billion in proposed savings in the Fiscal Year 2022 budget, including cancelling additional purchases of the F-35 combat aircraft ($11.4 billion in savings); eliminating the Space Force ($500 million to $2.5 billion in savings); reducing service contracting by 15% ($28.5 billion in savings); canceling the Pentagon’s new ICBM program, formally known as the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent, or GBSD ($400 million to $2.4 billion in savings); and eliminating the Pentagon’s slush fund, the Overseas Contingency Operations account ($20 billion in savings).”

Hartung gives the following example: “the F-35 program has been plagued by cost and performance problems” and “a series of analyses by the Project on Government Oversight has suggested that the plane may never be fully ready for combat.” With respect to the Space Force, it threatens to further militarize the U.S. approach to space security and will, if implemented, “undermine the ability to use space to enhance life on earth.” Cut out many of the over 600,000 contractors, “many of whom do jobs that could be done more effectively, efficiently, and affordably by civilian government employees. Cutting spending on service contracting by 15% would still leave the Pentagon with roughly a half a million, surely enough to carry out any necessary tasks they may be charged with carrying out.”

Hartung also recommends the cancellation of the new ICBM, known as the GBSD. He cites former Secretary of Defense William Perry [who] has pointed out, ICBMs are “some of the most dangerous weapons in the world” because a president would only have a matter of minutes to decide whether to launch them on warning of attack, greatly increasing the risk of an accidental nuclear war. Even if the Pentagon and the Air Force were to persist in deploying ICBMs – which are both dangerous and obsolete – they could save tens of billions in the years to come by cancelling the new ICBM and refurbishing existing missiles.” The Congressional Budget Office, the Rand corporations and other experts have indicated that “existing missiles could be made reliable for another two decades or more in lieu of building an expensive new ICBM. Given that a new ICBM could cost up to $264 billion over its lifetime, this would be a wise move at time when other security risks such as dealing with outbreaks of infectious disease and addressing the ravages of climate change are starved for funding.”

And, finally, Hartung recommends eliminating “the Pentagon’s slush fund, known officially as the Overseas Contingency Operations account, or OCO.” He continues: “In recent Congressional testimony, Mandy Smithberger of the Project on Government Oversight detailed the numerous downsides of funding military objectives in this undisciplined, under-scrutinized, and shortsighted fashion. Not only has the OCO account been used to fund tens of billions worth of projects and activities that wouldn’t have made the cut under the regular process of Pentagon budget review, but it has pushed up the department’s top line to astronomical levels that are far in excess of what is needed to ensure the safety of America and its allies.”

Example – William Astore, William J. Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) who has taught at the Air Force Academy and the Naval Postgraduate School, offers “suggestions” on how spending on the military may be reduced (https://thenation.com/article/world/coronavirus-military-spending). Astore’s recommendations dovetail with Hartung’s. Like Hartung, he suggests eliminating the nuclear arsenal modernization program, as a cost over the next 30 years of $1.7 trillion, eliminating the F-35 jet fighter contract with Lockheed Martin costing $1.5 trillion over the course of the contract. But Astore also points to cuts beyond those to which Hartung referred. Astore would reduce by half the 800 U.S. military bases that encircle the globe.

Example – John Nichols reports on the ideas of Representative Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), who “thinks the time is right to push the administration and Congress for a broader rethink of spending priorities” (https://thenation.com/article/politics/biden-military-budget). Nichols quotes Pocan as follows: “A proposed increase of $13 billion in defense spending is far too much given [the Pentagon budget’s] already rapid growth at a time of relative peace…. We cannot best build back better if the Pentagon’s budget is larger than it was under Donald Trump.” Pocan identifies some areas of the military budget that should be cut, such as “former President Trump’s excessive $1.5 trillion nuclear modernization plan” and “no new spending on nuclear weapons, as well as the need “to audit Pentagon waste and accountability measures to eliminate slush funds.” Nichols also quotes Win Without War’s Erica Fein: “Deadly pandemics, climate crisis, desperate inequality—the greatest threats to global security do not have military solutions. Yet while we’re repeatedly asked how we will afford to address these truly existential threats; the same question is never asked of adding to the Pentagon’s already-overstuffed coffers. Let’s be clear: continuing to funnel near-limitless resources into the pockets of arms manufacturers while underfunding public goods only undermines the safety of people in the United States and around the world.”

Example – Lawrence J. Korb, who has years of service in government, academia, and think tanks, also has ideas on how to reduce the military budget (https://americanprogress.org/issues/security/reports/2019/04/29/469086/fy-2020-defense-budget-gets-wrong).

Korb recommends cancelling “the Long-Range Standoff Weapon (LRSO), a new nuclear cruise missile that experts such as former Secretary of Defense William Perry say is not needed because the stealthy B-21 bomber will be able to penetrate even the most sophisticated air defenses. This step would save $713 million in FY 2020 and $18 billion for the rest of the LRSO program. Moreover, stopping production of the two new tactical nuclear weapons currently being developed would not only save about $1 billion in FY 2020 but would also save $17 billion over the next decade, in addition to decreasing the risk of a nuclear war. As Rep. Smith notes, “Funding new, low-yield weapons would only draw us further into an unnecessary nuclear arms race and increase the risks of miscalculation.”

And: “The Navy should also heed the advice of the late Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and current acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan not to continue building large nuclear carriers.60 Shanahan and key members of his staff believe that the days of the U.S. aircraft carrier are largely over in the face of advanced threats from China and Russia.” The Air Force “should cancel its plans to buy eight of the outmoded F-15 Eagles in 2020 for more than $1 billion—and 80 total over the next five years.61 Other than allowing Boeing to keep its production line open, there is no real reason for the Air Force to buy these planes, which will cost more than $100 million each, especially since the Air Force has 175 of them already and has not purchased any since 2001.”

Additionally, Korb would have Congress reject the Trump-inspired “space force.” He elaborates: “This force would have between 15,000 and 20,000 personnel and at least three four-star generals and would cost between $2 billion and $13 billion over the next five years. Moreover, it is unnecessary. There is no doubt that the United States needs a space command, much like the U.S. Strategic Command, but it does not need a separate service. Establishing a separate armed force to deal with the threats of space makes no more sense than establishing a separate force to manage the nation’s strategic nuclear capability.62 As House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith pointed out: “It [the space force] is too expensive, it creates more bureaucracy. We don’t want more people, we want to figure out how to better emphasize space.” And, finally, there is not need to increase the size of the active military force. On this point, Korb writes:

“the Army wants to increase the size of its active force; yet it missed its recruiting goals for a smaller force last year by almost 10,000 soldiers, even after giving massive bonuses and lowering its standards. Meanwhile, the Air Force should delay adding new squadrons until it deals with its pilot shortage, and the Navy should cut back its goal of growing to 355 ships by 2034. This is unrealistic even with a $750 billion budget, especially since the Navy just had to spend $24 billion to buy three Zumwalt-class destroyers and has underestimated the cost of the Columbia-class nuclear-armed submarines.”

Concluding thoughts

The debate over military spending will ultimately be resolved politically, in the White House and in the U.S. Congress. That said, the decisions will be influenced by the mega-military contractors and their armies of lobbyists and campaign contributions, the generals in the Pentagon, the competing narratives on what constitutes an adequate military budget, as well as by the pressure from communities that rely on military contracts, military bases, and jobs. Trevor Hunnicutt reports for Reuters that, at the moment, it won’t be an easy road for Biden. His military-spending plan “displeased both liberals hoping to impose cuts and hawks who want military spending to increase to deal with threats from China, Russia, Iran and North Korea – a reminder of the uphill battle Biden faces in delivering the policies he promised as a candidate beyond the COVID-19 emergency” (https://reuters.com/article/us-usa-biden-budget-idUSKBN2BW190).

Looming in the background there is the perennial question in foreign relations of how to mix diplomacy and force, or the threat of force. There are some signs that the Biden administration will, as one significant example, continue the past U.S. position vis-à-vis China, that is, viewing that country more as a military and economic threat than as a diplomatic opportunity.

Simone Chun at the Harvard Kennedy School of Politics points out that Biden’s Pentagon “recently asked Congress for an astronomical $27 billion budget increase to support a massive military buildup in Asia  as part of its new Indo-Pacific plan, which calls for a substantially more aggressive military stance against China (https://iop.harvard.edu/get-involved/harvard-political-review/waste-greed-and-fraud-business-makes-world’s-greatest-army). And, Chun writes, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken “echoed bipartisan political rhetoric about the “Chinese threat” during his visit to Asia last week [late March]. In a stream of condescending self-righteousness, he unleashed a deluge of recrimination against China and North Korea while pontificating on American exceptionalism.” She elaborates as follows.

“Blinken’s performance seemed tailored to the US domestic audience; a rallying call to win support for the upcoming battle: selling the Pentagon’s costly Asian military buildup plan–and the unprecedented profits it represents for the US military industrial complex–to Congress and American public. Unsurprisingly, US corporate media amplified Blinken’s message, exulting: ‘Blinken blasts aggressive China, North Korea’s systematic and widespread rights abuses.’ At the same time, Blinken and his team have been hard at work in reinforcing  an anti-China stance among their lynchpin Far Eastern military outposts–South Korea and Japan– by ensuring that the respective governments of these garrison states continue to unswervingly toe the US line with regard to Beijing.”

We’ll see in the coming months how the Biden administration addresses the issues of an inflated Pentagon budget, waste, and questionable weapons’ systems. I’ll close by referring to an article by Elliott Negin, senior editor at The Union of Concerned Scientists (https://scientificamerican.com/article/its-time-to-rein-in-inflated-military-budget).

He thinks a good place to start is with the 10 percent, $74 billion, cut in the military budget called for by the Congressional Progressive Caucus mid-July of 2020. He has other ideas for even greater spending cuts in the military budget, as follows.

“Cutting annual U.S. military outlays by 10 percent would be a good start, but even that would barely scratch the surface. Last year, Pentagon watchdog groups offered proposals for much deeper cuts that could still maintain a robust military. For example, the Center for International Policy’s Sustainable Defense Task Force—a collection of former White House, congressional and Pentagon budget officials, ex-military officers, and think tank experts—published a report detailing how the Defense Department could cut $1.2 trillion in waste and inefficiency over the next decade. The Project on Government Oversight’s Center for Defense Information posted a report recommending ways to cut the Pentagon’s annual budget by $199 billion without compromising national security or military capabilities. And the Poor People’s Campaign’s wide-ranging “moral budget” report went even further, calling for only $350 billion in annual military spending, essentially chopping the Pentagon budget in half.”

Perhaps such proposals are politically outlandish in the present scheme of things. Probably a lot more than the Biden administration will undertake. But there is no doubt that the U.S. spends too much on the military-industrial complex at a time when there is such unprecedented and unmet need in the society and when the world seems already embroiled in a new and more lethal Cold War.

The Amazon worker unionization drive, a corporate giant, and an uncertain political context

Bob Sheak, April 8, 2021

Introduction

This post focuses on the Amazon workers attempt to unionize in Bessemer, Alabama. It discusses the grievances that have led workers to want union representation and how Amazon has avoided unions so far. Unions generally have been in decline for some decades, so that the efforts by the Amazon worker to have a union would send a message to other workers in Amazon facilities around the country and the world that militant activism can happen. There are positive developments happening on the union front. Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives have passed pro-worker, pro-union legislation and President Biden has put out a comprehensive plan to “strengthen worker organizing, collective bargaining, and unions.” On the negative side, Republicans in the U.S. Senate may be able to stop such legislation and Amazon and most other corporations are opposed to unionization of their workforces. And corporations, most of which are anti-union, will likely re-double their efforts to support Republicans.

Amazon workers at an Alabama warehouse are fighting for union representation – and it has resonance

Josh Dzieza reports that 5,805 Amazon warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama, had seven weeks to cast a mail-in ballot on whether to support unionization by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) or not (https://theverge.com/2021/03/28/22352987/amazon-bessemer-alabama-union-vote-rwdsu).

The ballots were mailed out on February 8, 2021, and were due on Monday, March 29. The counting of the votes commenced on March 30 and is expected to take several weeks. Dzieza writes: “If the union wins, with a majority of the ballots turned in, the warehouse employees would become the first members of Amazon’s US workforce to unionize, a momentous event at a company that has long aggressively resisted labor organizing.” The union effort “could be a first step toward improving conditions at the country’s second-largest employer” – and  perhaps serve as a catalyst for Amazon workers elsewhere in the U.S. and in other countries to mount union drives or, if already unionized, to strike for better working conditions and better compensation. Jay Greene concurs, writing “The strike at the Bessemer facility represents, Dzieza maintains, the ‘biggest labor battle in its history on U.S. soil” and “a union victory could spark a wave of organizing campaigns among the 400,000 operations staff at the hundreds of other Amazon warehouses and delivery sites that dot the nation.”

“The vote is taking place,” according to Dzieza, “at an Amazon warehouse called BHM1 in Bessemer, Alabama, outside Birmingham.” The facility only opened operations last March, but already “by the summer workers had grown frustrated enough with conditions there that they reached out to the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, which had a presence at nearby poultry plants and other businesses.” Union organizers then gathered signatures from workers at the facility and obtained a sufficient number to have the National Labor Relations Board authorize the union election. The vote was carried out by mail due to safety concerns about the pandemic, despite Amazon’s desire to have an in-person vote at the facility  

Jay Greene points out that union efforts are unusual in Alabama because the state has a right-to-work law, “where employees in unionized workplaces aren’t required to pay union dues” https://washingtonpost.com/technology/2021/02/02/amazon-union-warehouse-workers). However, RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum believes that this may turn out to be an advantage for the union. He said, as quoted by Greene, “That’s because employees who oppose the union, or are indifferent to it, wouldn’t need to pay dues even if the union won the election. So, there’s no financial risk for workers who don’t want to become union members.” Appelbaum believes this situation may negate Amazon’s attempt “to make dues the issue, even though people don’t have to pay dues.”

If the Amazon unionization efforts ultimately fail, either because a majority of workers oppose the union or because Amazon subverts the contract negotiation process after a successful union election, then the Amazon workers at the Bessemer plant will continue to face the same oppressive work environment, where management can enforce tyrannical work rules over workers, penalize them and even fire them at will, require they work long ten hour days with few breaks and little time for personal needs, where the corporation will decide what the wages will be, where the corporation will decide the level of protection against Covid-19 virus there will be in the workplace, where there will be little defense against supervisory racism.

It they succeed in voting for the union and then in getting a contract with Amazon, workers and the union will finally have a chance to improve their conditions at work and wages and become an example that encourages workers to fight for unions elsewhere. However, as I’ll discuss later, there are limitations in union contracts that are typically not addressed and that give employers what can be reasonably viewed as unfair advantages.

The concerns of the workers

Oppressive and exhausting work conditions

Shira Ovide reports on this and gets some answers from an interview with Karen Weise, both journalists at The New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/31/technology/amazon-union-vote.html).

In response to the question “What do workers who support this union say that they want?” Weise, who has interviewed workers, says that workers at the Bessemer facility “say they don’t feel valued…. believe that they are constantly monitored to make sure they meet productivity goals, and the work can be exhausting.” While their pay is “higherthan the minimum wage, they say it’s not enough to compensate for what the work demands of them physically and the monitoring they’re under. There is a subset of workers who believe that a union would help them have power to change their pay or working conditions.”

Jay Greene’s investigation found that from the beginning, there were criticisms of “lack of adequate bathroom breaks, overheated facilities and overly aggressive performance targets for workers.” Bessemer workers interviewed by Greene “expressed a litany of concerns about issues from a lack of air conditioning during the hot Alabama summer to fears about the novel coronavirus spreading in the facility” (https://washingtonpost.com/technology/2021/02/02/amazon-union-warehouse-workers).

One of the workers interviewed by Greene is representative of the workers’ concerns. Darryl Richardson, a worker at the Bessemer warehouse who supports unionization, complained “about the scant time Amazon gives employees to use bathrooms, breaks that can sometimes require lengthy walks in the massive warehouse. Too much time away from picking items off shelves to ship to consumers — time that is tracked by computers — can lead to reprimands that can slow raises and promotions, and even lead to termination. He also bemoans last-minute directives from managers to work mandatory overtime shifts, sometimes coming just hours before the shift starts.” He also rejects the corporation’s suggestion that the goal of RWDSU “was to raise money to pay for union leaders’ cars and meals.”

The oppressive conditions about which workers complain are linked, Josh Dzieza reports, to how Amazon systematically tracks “the average rate at which workers perform a task, called takt time,’ and how much time they spend not scanning items, called ‘time off task.’” If workers fail to conform to the standards, they get reprimanded or fired (https://theverge.com/2021/03/28/22352987/amazon-bessemer-alabama-union-vote-rwdsu). Dzieza quotes Perry Connelly, a workers at BHM1 who supports unionization. Connelly said this: “It got to the point where people started complaining about going to the bathroom and coming back and something being said to them about their takt time going up.” This is, Dzieza says, a common complaint among workers at BHM1 and other Amazon facilities.

Amazon disputes such concerns. Dzieza received an emailed statement from Amazon spokesperson Heather Knox, who said that “like most companies, we have performance expectations for every Amazonian – be it a corporate employee or fulfillment center associate, and we measure actual performance against those expectations.” Knox said performance is “measured and evaluated over a long period of time” and that “we support people who are not performing to the levels expected with dedicated coaching to help them improve.” Knox also said that workers “are allowed to grab a snack, water, or use the toilet whenever needed” but did not directly address workers’ complaints that they are penalized for doing so.”

There is other evidence that Amazon does create an oppressive workplace for workers. “Following revelations in September that Amazon had engaged in widespread surveillance, harassment, and intimidation of workers in the U.S., U.K., and elsewhere who had attempted to organize, Amnesty International released a report in December calling on Amazon to “let workers unionize.” The report also cited how French labor unions and regulations had served to protect Amazon workers during the pandemic. The corporate leviathan should have to reckon with such constraints on its power and its abuses in every country it operates” (https://theintercept.com/2020/12/03/amazon-workers-union-international-strike).

Other worker concerns

Pay

Dzieza also found in his research that workers hope a union can negotiate higher pay.” He continues: “Many of the workers are acutely aware that Amazon has done stupendously well during the pandemic, with profits up 84 percent in 2020 and Jeff Bezos’ personal wealth rising by about $70 billion. Meanwhile, many BHM1 workers like Connelly have seen their wages drop: BHM1 opened in March, when Amazon had implemented $2 per hour in additional hazard pay, a program the company ended in June, dropping their pay to $15.30 an hour. “A lot of people are talking about the fact that he received billions of dollars in the pandemic from all his facilities, but he didn’t kick none of that money back to his employees who were actually working and in the trenches for him,” said Connelly.”

The Covid-19 pandemic and a lack of safety measures

“And recently, workers’ fears about the health risks of the pandemic and the goals of the Black Lives Matter movement have made some employees feel emboldened to demand more from Amazon,” according to Weise (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/31/technology/amazon-union-vote.html).

“At the beginning of the pandemic,” Greene learned, “Amazon’s warehouse employeesraised concerns about their safety in its busy facilities, where, they said, managers initially didn’t take enough precautions. Amazon has since put in place more measures to address concerns… but not to the satisfaction of some workers.” Greene reports:

“Amazon spokeswoman Heather Knox told Greene that “Amazon has invested $961 million in coronavirus safety measures, including providing more than 283 million masks at warehouses and deploying more than 351,000 thermometers and 16,500 thermal cameras at its facilities.” Nonetheless, in October, Amazon “said nearly 20,000 of its U.S. employees had tested positive or had been presumed positive for the virus since the pandemic took hold.” Unsurprisingly, “Fears about contracting the virus is one reason why some workers seek union representation.” Josh Dzieza reminds us that “recently, the NLRB found that Amazon threatened and fired workers who protested the company’s handling of COVID-19” (https://theverge.com/2021/03/28/22352987/amazon-bessemer-alabama-union-vote-rwdsu).

Racial issues

  • Share this on Twitter (opens in new window)
  • SHAREAll sharing optionsIf the union wins, the warehouse employees would become the first members of Amazon’s US workforce to unionize, a momentous event at a company that has long aggressively resisted labor organizing, and one that could be a first step toward improving conditions at the country’s second-largest employer. Here is what’s happened so far and what might happen nextWhat are the concerns of Amazon workers at the Bessemer Warehouse
  • Shira Ovide gets some answers to this – and other – questions in an interview with Karen Weise, both journalists for The New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/31/technology/amazon-union-vote.html). In response to the question “What do workers who support this union say that they want?,” Weise, who has interviewed workers, says that Amazon workers “say they don’t feel valued…. believe that they are constantly monitored to make sure they meet productivity goals, and the work can be exhausting.” While their pay is “higherthan the minimum wage, they say it’s not enough to compensate for what the work demands of them physically and the monitoring they’re under. There is a subset of workers who believe that a union would help them have power to change their pay or working conditions.
  • “About 85 percent of the employees in the Bessemer warehouse are Black, and union organizers have focused on issues of racial empowerment and equality.

Jay Greene refers to the racial aspect, writing: “Many of the workers in the Bessemer warehouse are Black, and the union has framed the fight around issues of ‘respect and dignity’ as well as pay, RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum said. ‘We see this as much as a civil rights struggle as a labor struggle,’ he added.”

Some unknown number of workers oppose unionization

Greene gives this example. “Carla Johnson has already been won over by Amazon. The 44-year-old from Birmingham works as a ‘problem solver,’ fixing orders with damaged packages or ones where the wrong products were picked before being shipped to customers. Johnson supports Amazon because of “the way the company treated her when she suffered a seizure on the job in July, two months after starting at the site. She had brain cancer, and Amazon gave her three-and-a-half months’ leave to undergo surgery and subsequent treatments. The bills topped $100,000, but her company-provided health insurance picked up the tab, she said.” Greene continues the story. “Johnson, who is now cancer-free, acknowledged she might still have the same benefits even if the warehouse was unionized. But her experience makes her believe that Amazon cares for her and her co-workers and that a union isn’t necessary. And she worries that a union could disrupt the line of communication she has with her managers.”

Amazon’s anti-union efforts

Greene’s investigation found the following evidence. “Amazon is working hard to persuade other workers to join Johnson in opposing the union.Since mid-January, when the NLRB scheduled the vote, the company has ratcheted up efforts to sway workers, warehouse employees said. It set up an anti-union website — DoItWithoutDues.com — discouraging workers from joining the union drive. The company has also held ongoing mandatory meetings for workers on company time, so-called captive-audience sessions, to show videos and run through PowerPoint presentations that disparage unionization.” The corporation sends out multiple texts a day to workers. One text message read as follows: “We don’t believe that you need to pay someone to speak for you or that you need to pay dues for what you already get for free.” As the unionization vote was underway, “managers have come by workstations to hand employees water bottles and candy,” according to one worker.

In its opposition to the union drive, Amazon says workers don’t need a union coming between them and the company, and, through its messaging and mandatory meetings, urges workers not to abandon “the winning team.” Amazon also has pressed its case “with leaflets and [as mentioned] mandated anti-union meetings.” The corporation reminds workers that they are already handsomely compensated, referring to “the starting pay of $15.30 an hour, well above the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. (Alabama has no state minimum-wage law.)” Amazon additionally reminds workers that they receive much better benefits than workers in comparable jobs outside of Amazon, including health-care, vision and dental benefits and a retirement plan.” In short, as Natasha Lennard puts it,  The corporation believes that it is doing what is expected of it by “creating a lot of jobs and paying more than many of its retail competitors” (https://theintercept.com/2020/12/03/amazon-workers-union-international-strike).

Josh Dzieza provides further details on Amazon’s efforts to defeat the union. “Amazon has been waging an aggressive campaign against the union effort, running “Facebook ads directing to a website that warned workers they would have to pay union dues,” while also putting up banners on the walls and signs on the restroom stall doors with messages like “Where will your dues go?” and “Unions can’t, we can!” (https://theverge.com/2021/03/28/22352987/amazon-bessemer-alabama-union-vote-rwdsu). The company has brought in a high-priced union-busting firm and held mandatory meetings at the warehouse. “They call them training sessions, but all it was union bashing,” said Connelly.

“The company has also employed more unorthodox measures. After losing its fight to have the election held in-person, Amazon sent employees mailers with instructions on filling out their ballot with a ‘no’ vote and messaged them to deposit their ballots in a new mailbox installed at the warehouse entrance, Vice reported. (Knox said “the mailbox was installed by the USPS as an option for convenient mailing to and from work but never a mandate.”

To top it off, employers have extreme structural advantages over organizers under US labor law, like their ability to hold mandatory anti-union presentations on company time while restricting non-work conversations and barring non-employee organizers from the workplace. Consequently, organizers are often left to canvass employees on nearby streets and sidewalks — or, in the case of BHM1, the parking lot as departing employees waited for the light to change. Then, late last year, Amazon asked the county to change the timing on the traffic light. Knox said this was done to reduce congestion during shift changes, but organizers say it made their work harder.”

There is, moreover, recent evidence that Amazon has illegally fired pro-union, activist employees. Sharon Zhang reports on his story, writing that the “National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has found that Amazon illegally fired two employees who spoke out about the company’s climate impact and labor practices during the pandemic” (https://truthout.org/articles/amazon-illegally-fired-activist-employees-labor-board-finds).

The employees, Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, “were fired in April of last year after criticizing Amazon for forcing its warehouse employees to work in unsafe conditions due to the coronavirus. The two employees circulated a petition internally about the risks of working amid COVID-19, and both also offered to match donations up to $500 on Twitter for the workers.” The NLRB’s decision is that “if the company doesn’t settle the case, the agency would accuse the company of unfair labor practices.” This is not the first time Amazon has been found to have violated labor laws. Zhang writes: “The labor board has found the company to have violated labor laws so many times — at least 37 — that the agency is considering launching a formal, national investigation into Amazon, NBC reported last month.”

At the same time, while the NLRB can discipline the company for violating labor standards, “the agency has such little teeth [so] that any punishment it can give is basically a slap on the wrist for a company as huge as Amazon.” Zhang quotes Caroline O’Donovan at BuzzfeedNews: “Even when the NLRB sides with workers, the consequences, or so-called remedies, it’s able to mete out — typically small monetary settlements, back pay, or posting a flyer — are so minor that they do little to deter employers from violating the rules again.” This situation could be remedied if the House-passed Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or the PRO Act [discussed below], is eventually passed in the Senate and signed by President Biden.

Generally, unions in the U.S. have not been doing well

David J. Pryzbylski writes on the “Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) annual report, released in January of 2021, that the data on unions in the U.S. is mixed (https://www.natlawreview.com/article/union-numbers-2021-edition). On the one hand, union membership “increased on a percentage basis from 2019 to 2020.” On the plus side, the union membership rate in 2020 was 10.8 percent, “up by 0.5 percentage point from 2019. However, the total number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions was at 14.3 million in 2020, but this “was down by 321,000, or 2.2 percent, from 2019.” This anomaly is explained by the fact that the wage and salary employment fell during the year as a result of the pandemic, so a slightly higher percentage of workers in a smaller overall total employment situation. Pryzbylski puts it this way: “The disproportionately large decline in total wage and salary employment compared with the decline in the number of union members led to an increase in the union membership rate.”

The long-term trend is clear enough. The unionization rate in the U.S. has declined. As Pryzbylski points out: “In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent and there were 17.7 million union workers.” Now it’s down to 10.8 percent and 14.3 million in 2020. He also notes that a higher percentage of workers in the public sector were unionized (34.8%) than in the private sector (6.3%).

Shaun Richman identifies one of the systemic consequences of this decline in unionization in his book Tell the Bosses We’re Coming (2020). He writes: “Today, there is growing recognition that the massive and nearly unprecedented inequality in our country and the economic recessions that occur more frequently and hit with greater severity is a direct result of the decline of union membership” (p. 215).

Trump made a bad situation worse

Steven Greenhouse documents how workers generally have been put at an intensified disadvantage in collective bargaining during the years of the Trump administration (https://prospect.org/power/worker-s-friend-trump-waged-war-workers).  Trump’s appointees to the federal courts and federal agencies “moved aggressively to undercut workers and unions.” Greenhouse also refers to “how think tanks and worker advocates have compiled lengthy lists of Trump’s anti-worker and anti-union actions—some more than 50 items long.” For example, Trump “rolled back overtime protections for millions of workers and made it easier for Wall Street firms to rip off workers’ 401(k)s.”

Trump additionally “erased a rule that extended overtime pay to millions more workers, a move that will deprive many workers of thousands of dollars per year.” The former president “greatly relaxed requirements for employers to report workplace injuries, making it harder for workers to know how dangerous their workplace is and what hazards need correcting.” “In a bizarre, pro-corporate twist, Trump’s Labor Department is even allowing many employers who violate minimum wage, overtime, and other wage laws to avoid any penalty by volunteering to investigate themselves. In a blow to workers of color and women, the Trump administration scrapped a rule that let the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission collect pay data from large corporations so it could obtain insights into possible pay discrimination by gender and race.”

Unionization efforts at Amazon have failed in the past

Greene sums it up well. “Amazon is one of the nation’s largest employers, with more than 1.1 million workers worldwide, and it has long opposed the unionization of its domestic workforce (https://washingtonpost.com/technology/2021/02/02/amazon-union-warehouse-workers). For years, U.S. unions have been quietly working to crack the company, with no success. The closest was a bid by a small group of equipment maintenance and repair technicians at its Middletown, Del., warehouse in 2014. Those workers ultimately voted against forming a union, following a drive led by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.” And in 2019, “Amazon fired an employee who had been outspoken about working conditions inside his Staten Island warehouse and had called for unionization. The company said the worker was terminated for violating a safety regulation at the facility.”

Win or lose, the Amazon workers have energized the union movement

“If Amazon workers unionize,” Jay Greene writes, “it would mark a major milestone for worker representation, which has long been in decline.” Furthermore, Greene reports: “As U.S. manufacturing has waned, participation in unions has shrunk to about 11 percent last year, down from 30 percent of the nonagricultural workforce in 1964. Some older companies, like 113-year-old logistics giant UPS, are unionized, but major nonunion employers include more recent entrants like retailers Walmart and the Gap.” In this context, “Amazon is a ripe target, as a major player in logistics, transportation and retail. Adding to its appeal is the rapid growth of its warehouse operations — it added 400,000 workers primarily to its global warehouses and delivery operations in the first nine months of last year.”

The union needs a yes vote from the majority of the ballots case, not an absolute majority. Once this is accomplished, Dzieza tells us, the RWDSU can begin bargaining with Amazon for a contract. However, there are many precedents of corporations not bargaining in good faith, according to Janice Fine, a professor of labor studies and employment relations at Rutgers University ((https://theverge.com/2021/03/28/22352987/amazon-bessemer-alabama-union-vote-rwdsu). But the fact that the workers have had an election, Fine says, is already a victory, given the way US labor law and Amazon’s power puts organizers at a disadvantage. Getting to an election is a signal to unions that it can be worth the energy and expense of attempting to organize Amazon workers, and to workers that the risks they take might pay off. There are already signs that workers are taking that lesson from Bessemer. Since the campaign began, the RWDSU said it has already been contacted by over 1,000 Amazon workers interested in unionizing.”

Signs of pro-workers and pro-union progress

A global movement has emerged among Amazon workers

Make Amazon Pay

Natasha Lennard reports for The Intercept on “a new wave of organizing by a global coalition of warehouse workers, trade unions, and activists under the banner Make Amazon Pay — the first such coalition of broad international scope. Coordinated strikes, work stoppages, and protests of varying size have taken place in Bangladesh, India, Australia, Germany, Poland, Spain, France, the U.K., the U.S. and beyond” (https://theintercept.com/2020/12/03/amazon-workers-union-international-strike).  Lennard continues: “Make Amazon Pay brings together worker collectives — from hawkers in India to warehouse workers in Poland — with large international union federations. The coalition also includes major nonprofits such as Greenpeace to address stunning facts like the scale of Amazon’s carbon footprint, which is larger than two-thirds of the world’s countries.” The Organization Progressive International is at the center of organizing the international coalition (https://progressiveinternational/wire/2020-11-26-make-amazon-pay).

On Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020, “the coalition published an open letter signed in solidarity by over 401 politicians from over 34 countries, including Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, and Rep.-elect Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y, from the United States. (https://progressiveinternational-wire/2020-12-04-dear-mr-=bezos-the-days-of-amazons-impunity-are-over/en)

The letter, which pledges support for the Make Amazon Pay effort, is addressed to Bezos. Here is the letter

——————————-

Dear Mr. Bezos, the Days of Amazon’s Impunity Are Over

Progressive International, Dec 4, 2020

Mr. Bezos,

We, elected representatives, legislators, and public officials from around the world, hereby put you on notice that Amazon’s days of impunity are over. Last Friday, 27 November, workers, activists, and citizens around the world joined forces to demand justice from Amazon. Today, we pledge to stand with this movement in every congress, parliament, and statehouse where we work.

In short, we write to you now with a single commitment: to Make Amazon Pay.

The world knows that Amazon can afford to pay its workers, its environmental cost and its taxes. And yet – time and again – you have dodged and dismissed your debts to workers, societies, and the planet.

Your great wealth is based on the skills of your workers and the care they receive from their friends, family and communities. These are the very people who risked their health and that of their loved ones to supply goods to consumers and make you enormous profits. But while your personal wealth has risen by around US $13 million per hour in 2020, these workers enter dangerous working conditions, enjoy little or no increase in their pay, and face retaliation for their efforts to defend themselves and organize their colleagues.

We pledge again, alongside your workers, to Make Amazon Pay.

Your company’s rise to dominance has come with extraordinary costs to our environment. While you have personally acknowledged the climate emergency among the defining challenges of our era, Amazon’s carbon footprint is greater than two-thirds of the world’s countries. Your plan for emissions reduction is both insufficient to stay within the environmental boundaries of our planet and difficult to trust given Amazon’s record of broken promises on sustainability and financial contributions to climate change denial.

We pledge again, on behalf of our planet, to Make Amazon Pay.

Finally, you have undermined our democracies and their capacity to respond to collective challenges. Your monopolistic practices have squeezed small businesses, your web services have disrespected data rights, and you have contributed a pittance in return. For example, in 2017 and 2018, Amazon paid zero US federal corporation tax. Through your global tax dodging, you damage the public provision of health, education, housing, social security and infrastructure.

We pledge again, for our constituents, to Make Amazon Pay.

We urge you to act decisively to change your policies and priorities to do right by your workers, their communities, and our planet. We stand ready to act in our respective legislatures to support the movement that is growing around the world to Make Amazon Pay.

Yours sincerely,

Find the list of all 401 legislators from 34 countries here [at https://progressiveinternational-wire/2020-12-04-dear-mr-=bezos-the-days-of-amazons-impunity-are-over/en).

——————————-

Examples of worker organizing in other countries

Lennard gives the following examples (https://theintercept.com/2020/12/03/amazon-workers-union-international-strike). “Garment workers in Bangladesh staged a protest outside an Amazon supplier in Dhaka, behind a bright red ‘Make Amazon Pay’ banner. The company has reportedly not paid its Bangladeshi suppliers for completed orders that were canceled in the pandemic. Workers in Germany went on a three-day strike, an escalation in a years long battle with Amazon for better pay and working conditions; approximately 2,500 people took part.’”

“In Poznań, in the west of Poland, workers brandished the same ‘Make Amazon Pay’ signs during a coordinated work stoppage. Polish workers have been organizing for weeks — including staging wildcat strikes — to have their minimal holiday bonuses raised to match the amounts workers in other countries will receive. Warehouse workers told [Lennard] by video conference that employees in Poland had been paid four times less than their counterparts in Germany; through union organizing, that discrepancy has shrunk to three times less, while the cost of living is by no means three times cheaper. In the U.S., workers are taking historic steps just to unionize.”

Amazon workers, already unionized, have had success in France, when workers engaged in mass protests, strikes, and union complaining about Covid-19 safety. As a result, a Parisian judge ordered that “Amazon develop improved health and safety measures with the unions” and “[n]oncompliance would come with a penalty of over $1 million per day and per violation.” The corporation announced in fury that it would suspend all of its French operations, but workers continue to receive full pay and the company says that it [now] plans to follow the judge’s decision.”

The PRO Act legislation passed by the House

On the pro-worker front, the U.S. House of Representatives, with no Republican votes, has passed the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act for a second time. It’s fate now lies in the Senate. Richard F. Vitarelli and Adam C. Doerr report on the bill for the National Law Review (https://www.natlawreview.com/article/protecting-right-to-organize-pro-act-passes-house-awaits-senate-fate).

They write: “The sponsors described the bill as comprehensive labor legislation aimed at bolstering workers’ collective bargaining rights. The bill is in the Senate and was referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions on March 11, 2021.” The same legislation was passed a year ago, “when the House of Representatives first passed the PRO Act, in February 2020, [when] then-President Donald Trump was a vocal opponent and promised to veto it if it ever reached his desk. The Republican-controlled Senate at the time made sure the bill never even made it to the floor for debate.

The circumstances in the U.S. Congress are different now. President Joe Biden has promised to sign the bill if he gets the chance. It has a chance for passing in the Senate, where Democrats have a 50+1 majority, but only if all Democratic senators support setting aside the filibuster, which requires 60 votes to pass legislation. The construction industry is opposed to the bill. Vitarelli and Doerr quote the CEO of the Associated General Contractors who “called the PRO Act “a significant threat to the viability of the commercial construction industry.” Most corporations will oppose the bill.

Vitarelli and Doerr also allude to some of the bill’s provisions. If the legislation is passed by the Senate and signed into law by President Biden, the Pro Act would significantly improve workers’ ability to get a contract after a positive union election, prohibit employers from locking out striking workers and replacing them, while also allow workers at other companies to support striking workers (e.g., secondary boycotts). And the act would permit individual employees “to bring civil lawsuits in federal court alleging their own ‘unfair labor practice’ claims and to recover back pay, front pay, consequential damages, liquidated damages, punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees. Corporate directors and officers also could be held personally liable for violations.

If ever passed into law, The PRO Act would significantly increase the ability of workers to protect and advance their workplace interests

In an article published in Labor Notes, Brandon Magner considers how, if the PRO Act was already law, it would have positively affected the Amazon Union Election (https://labornotes.org/blogs/2021/03/if-pro-act-were-law-amazon-union-election-would-have-looked-very-different). He refers to eight impacts that PRO Act would have, and implicitly identifies the disadvantages that presently burden, or have burdened, the Amazon workers in their efforts to unionize – and then to obtain a contract. Here I quote Magner.

  • Amazon would be prohibited from conducting captive audience meetings. Research shows that employers deploy these meetings in almost 90 percent of NLRB elections, in no small part because they’re so effective in channeling the employer’s message and coercing the captive employees. Amazon was no exception to this phenomenon. Under the PRO Act, the very use of these meetings would constitute an Unfair Labor Practice as a violation of Section 8(a)(1) of the NLRA.
  • Amazon would not have had legal standing to participate in representation proceedings. This is important for pre-election conduct, as Amazon used its time at the December hearings to inflate the proposed bargaining unit to a wall-to-wall unit and attempt to stall for time to begin campaigning against the union. These sort of dual stalling-and-gerrymandering tactics would be impossible under the PRO Act, as the pre-election hearing would not have included Amazon at all.
  • The Union’s proposed bargaining unit would have likely been accepted. Through the PRO Act’s codification of the Obama Board’s Specialty Healthcare decision, a union’s proposed bargaining unit is to be accepted by the Labor Board so long as the unit shares a sufficient “community of interest.” Combined with the removal of employer standing, these changes would have all but guaranteed the vote covered only the 1,500 or so employees the union originally petitioned for instead of the wall-to-wall compromise that was agreed upon by the Union as a means of speeding up the process.
  • If the union won, it would be guaranteed to secure a first contract. The PRO Act installs a system of interest arbitration to take hold if the parties do not reach an initial collective bargaining agreement within 90 days of a union’s certification following an election victory. This would have taken away a key campaign talking point from Amazon, which was able to truthfully tell its employees that the Union was not assured to provide its members a contract even if it won the election.
  • The election would have been over months ago. The PRO Act provides for faster pre-election proceedings (through codification of the Obama Board’s 2014 “quickie election” rules) and the option for electronic voting at the union’s preference. While the mail-ballot election in many ways has likely benefitted the union, the sheer size of the unit and USPS’s pandemic-era issues likely convinced the NLRB that voting needed to last almost two months to give everyone a chance to vote. Amazon has been allowed to continue campaigning against the Union during this time. Electronic voting could logically be done faster and circumvent any post-office problems, in addition to undercutting the employer’s built-in influences from in-person voting on company property.
  • Amazon would face far greater consequences for unlawfully interfering with the election. As I’ve discussed, current NLRB case law makes bargaining orders a very rare occurrence. Combined with the agency’s lack of punitive remedies, employers are greatly incentivized to commit unfair labor practices or otherwise interfere with the “laboratory conditions” of the vote, as the worst that will usually happen is a re-run of the election. Under the PRO Act, a union that enjoyed majority support before filing its petition would be certified through card check in elections that have been set aside because the employer committed an unfair labor practice or otherwise interfered with a fair election, and where the employer did not demonstrate that the violation or other form of interference was unlikely to have affected the outcome of the election. A simple 8(a)(1) violation concerning supervisor threats or promises could conceivably be enough to certify a losing union under the PRO Act’s strict language, so Amazon would have been forced to strictly regulate both its and its agents’ conduct.
  • The union would have far more economic weapons at its disposal in exacting leverage and building solidarity. The PRO Act expressly legalizes the use of intermittent strikes, partial strikes, and production slowdowns. While the Union has seemed content to rely on peaceful tactics and the NLRB’s election machinery for certification, unions would not be confined to such tactics in the face of employer hostility. These sorts of job actions could be immensely effective against Amazon given its just-in-time methods underlying its global supply chain. If nothing else, it’s more tools in the workers’ tool box that the employer has to account for.
  • Alabama’s “Right-to-Work” law would be repealed. While RTW laws are often exaggerated in their legal effect, as they only affect the specific issue of union security clauses and unions’ right to collect dues, most people understand these laws to have powerful signaling effects on politicians, businesses, communities, and the workers themselves. With all RTW laws repealed under the PRO Act, Alabama employers like Amazon would not have the head start of overseeing a workforce that has been conditioned for years on the idea that unions don’t belong in the Deep South.

President Biden is pro-union (not, he says, anti-business)

Abigal Johnson refers to some evidence that verifies this (https://cnbc.com/2020/12/01/biden-promises-to-be-the-most-pro-union-president-and-rep.html). Biden appears to share the view that “labor unions are both good for businesses and workers.” He began his presidential campaign at a union hall in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He has stated his support for the  PRO Act. His website “includes numerous union-friendly policies including promises to enact financial penalties on companies that interfere with workers’ organizing efforts, provide a federal guarantee for public sector employees to organize and ban ‘right to work’ laws.” At a Nov. 16 meeting “with business leaders such as General Motors CEO Mary Barra, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Target chief executive Brian Cornell as well as labor leaders such as AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, Service Employees International Union president Mary Kay Henry, and United Auto Workers president Rory Gamble, Biden said that ‘unions are going to have increased power’ in his administration.” He is quoted as saying: “I want you to know I’m a union guy, that’s not anti-business.”

As president, on Feb. 28, he expressed support for the Amazon Warehouse Workers union drive. NPR’s Jaclyn Dias quotes what Biden said on a video shared on Twitter. “Today and over the next few days and weeks, workers in Alabama and all across America are voting on whether to organize a union in their workplace. This is vitally important — a vitally important choice, as America grapples with the deadly pandemic, the economic crisis and the reckoning on race — what it reveals is the deep disparities that still exist in our country” (https://npr/com/2021/03/01/974210944/biden-backs-amazon-warehouse-workers-union-drive).

David Cohen emphasizes that, on the video, Biden does not tell the Amazon workers to vote for the union, but praised them for attempting to organize in support of a union (https://politico.com/news/2021/02/28/biden-union-amazon-workers-471907). Cohen quotes Biden as follows: “Workers in Alabama — and all across America — are voting on whether to organize a union in their workplace. It’s a vitally important choice — one that should be made without intimidation or threats by employers,” the president tweeted. “Every worker should have a free and fair choice to join a union.” The main point is the Biden wants to see workers have an unencumbered option to unionize.

Writing for “legal news” at JDSUPRA, David P. Phippen’s finds generally that the “Biden campaign made it clear that his administration will support union organizing, collective bargaining, and unionization. In general, his plan is to seek to add to the power of unions by increasing union membership, as well as reducing the rights and leverage that employers have enjoyed recently and, somewhat, historically” (https://jusupra.com/legalnews/the-biden-era-of-labor-law-change-the-8486888). Phippen’s viewpoint is validated by a new plan by Biden to enhance the relative power of unions in their relations with employers.

Biden proposes a comprehensive pro-worker, pro-union plan

Biden has made his pro-worker and union views clear in proposing a comprehensive plan “for strengthening worker organizing, collective bargaining, and unions” (https://joebiden.com/empowerworkers). The plan identifies three goals. It proposes to: (1) “Check the abuse of corporate power over labor and hold corporate executives personally accountable for violations of labor laws”; (2) “Encourage and incentivize unionization and collective bargaining”; and (3) “Ensure that workers are treated with dignity and receive the pay, benefits, and workplace protections they deserve.”

On the first goal, Biden will hold “corporations and executives personally accountable for interfering with organizing efforts and violating other labor laws. The plan strong supports the PRO Act provisions that call for “financial penalties on companies that interfere with worker’ organizing efforts, including firing or otherwise retaliating against workers.” But the plan goes beyond the PRO Act “by enacting legislation to impose even stiffer penalties on corporations and to hold company executives personally liable when they interfere with organizing efforts, including criminally liable when their interference is intentional.” Employers who engaged in “wage theft, or cheat on their taxes by intentionally misclassifying their employees as independent contractors” will be stopped from pursuing such activities. The plan “will fund a dramatic increase in the number of investigators in labor and employment enforcement agencies to facilitate a large anti-misclassification effort,” “institute multi-year federal debarment for all employers who illegally oppose unions, building on debarment efforts pursued in the Obama-Biden Administration.”

On the second goal, Biden wants to “make it easier for workers who choose to unionize to do so.” Here the plan draws from the PRO Act, in, for example, banning “employers’ mandatory meetings with their employees, including captive audience meetings in which employees are forced to listen to anti-union rhetoric; “requiring employers to report not only information communicated to employees, but also the activities of third-party consultants who work behind the scenes to manage employers’ anti-union campaigns.” The plan will go beyond the PRO Act by “allowing workers to use this process, called ‘card check,’ as an initial option for forming a union, not merely an option granted when the employer has illegally interfered in the election process.” The Biden plan will also provide “a federal guarantee for public sector employees to bargain for better pay and benefits and the working conditions they deserve.” The plan will “repeal the Taft-Hartley provisions that allow states to impose “right to work” laws.” And, among other proposals, Biden’s plan calls for the creation of “a cabinet-level working group that will solely focus on promoting union organizing and collective bargaining in the public and private sectors.” 

On the third goal, “Biden will ensure that workers receive the pay and dignity they deserve.” Here are a few examples from the plan. The president will “increase the federal minimum wage to $15.” The plan will ensure “that every federal investment in infrastructure and transportation projects or service jobs is covered by prevailing wage protections.” It will stop “employers from denying workers overtime play they’ve earned,” call for the reclassification of workers in the “gig economy” from independent contractors to workers entitled to legal benefits and protections, and eliminate “non-compete clauses and no-poaching agreements that hinder the ability of employees to seek higher wages, better benefits, and working conditions by changing employers.” Biden’s plan will also “increase workplace safety and health,” as OHSA will be directed “to substantially expand its enforcement efforts,” “increase the number of investigators in OSHA and the Mine Safety Health and Administration (MSHA),” and have “OSHA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, MSHA, and other relevant agencies to develop comprehensive strategies for addressing the most dangerous hazards workers encounter in the modern workplace.” 

Concluding thoughts

We won’t know whether the Amazon workers at the Bessemer facility will vote to have union representation. If they vote in favor of the union, it is just a first step in the collective bargaining process. Given the anti-union position of Amazon, it would not be surprising then, even if the union is voted in, that the corporation would do its best to subvert contract negotiations. In the meantime, the same oppressive work conditions remain in place, with the same long hours, authoritarian and sometimes racist supervision, unexpected demands for workers to work additional hours, low wages (especially after taxes), few breaks, difficulties in getting to the restroom and back to the job without being penalized, the threats to and dismissal of union activists, and so forth. At the same time, Amazon workers in other facilities across the country may well be encouraged to undertake the precarious task of a union drive.

Most Amazon workers are employed at the Bessemer or other warehouses because they lacked decent options. Alec MacGillis documents this point, among others, in his book Fulfillment: Winning and Losing in One-Click America. MacGillis also makes another point. He writes: “More than worker activism alone would be necessary to provide a check on so vast and powerful a company,” that is, Amazon (p. 335). Worker activism is necessary but so is federal activism. Joe Biden has laid out a plan that would dramatically improve the bargaining position of workers. However, the plan, or parts of it, will have to win support in both the U.S. House (which it has) and in the U.S. Senate, where Republicans will  use the filibuster to stop any legislative progress.

There is another consideration as well. Most corporations and their trade associations, not only Amazon, don’t want unions and certainly don’t want powerful unions. So, whether Biden’s plan overcomes the filibuster hurdle in the Senate or not, corporate America is likely to use their immense resources politically to oppose the forthcoming elections of Democrats and eventually of Biden.

Ideally, the workers at Amazon would get a beneficial contract, other workers at Amazon and in other industries would mount unionization efforts, public opinion would be favorable to unionization, Biden and the Democrats will win elections and succeed in reforming labor law, and the outcome would be some fair balance brought to labor-management relations. Even then, corporations will still control where to locate or relocate their facilities, what to produce, the size of the workforce, and how to arrange production and distribution. The general implication: the labor struggles will continue to face major challenges. Whether they are insurmountable remains to be seen.

The challenge of creating a humane immigration policy for the U.S.-Mexico border

Bob Sheak, March 25, 2021

bsheak983@gmail.com

Currently, the Republicans in the U.S. Congress are doing their best to draw the public’s attention to a “crisis” (indeed, it is a humanitarian refugee crisis) at the US-Mexico border. But the Republican position reflects no concern for the refugees and asylum seekers who are escaping from dire economic, environmental and social circumstances in their home countries. The adults hope to find jobs and a better life in the United States.

There are two interlinked parts of the immigration issue. One concerns the number of migrants who are seeking entrance to the U.S., a number that looks as though it will remain high and rise, mainly because the conditions driving immigration in Central America, Mexico, and other countries with large impoverished and disrupted populations are likely not only to remain dire but to worsen. The other concern is what to do about the large undocumented population of roughly 11 million or so who already reside in the country. In this post, I’ll concentrate on the first concern. Biden and congressional Democrats are addressing both parts, against strong, if not unified, opposition from Republicans.

According to an article by Georgina Gustin, “the World Bank projects that nearly 4 million people from Central America and Mexico could become climate migrants by 2050” (https://insideclimatenews.org/98072019/climate-change-migration-honduras-drought-crop-failure-farming-deforestation-guatemala-trump).

The crisis

John Gramlich reviews current research from the Pew Research Center to substantiate that there is a border crisis (https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/03/15/migrant-apprehensions-at-u-s-mexico-border-are-surging-again). He reports that in February the “U.S. Border Patrol apprehended nearly 100,000 migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, “the tenth consecutive month of increased apprehensions and a return to levels last seen in mid-2019.” And the trend in apprehensions at the southwestern border since April of 2020 has been up. The Pew data indicate that “apprehensions have climbed every month since then and reached 96,974 in February [of 2021], according to new data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the federal agency that encompasses the Border Patrol. (It’s important to note that apprehensions refer to events, not people, and some migrants may be apprehended more than once” – and some migrants may not be apprehended).

There are some more detailed findings about the apprehended migrant population from the Pew research as well. “While only around a third of all apprehensions in February were people traveling in families or unaccompanied minors, their numbers have increased sharply this year. Apprehensions of people traveling in families rose from 7,064 to 18,945, or 168%, between January and February, while apprehensions of unaccompanied minors rose from 5,694 to 9,297, or 63%.”

The plight of immigrant children at the border has been of greatest recent concern. According to Gramlich, they “pose unique challenges for the Border Patrol because they may legally only be detained in holding facilities for up to three days before being transferred to shelters. As migrant apprehensions have soared in recent months, many children have been detained longer than the three-day limit due to a lack of space at shelters.” The Biden administration is scrambling to fix the problem but it will take time. Meanwhile, some children are being kept in unacceptable situations, as the Biden administration tries to find more adequate facilities and opportunities in the U.S. to relocate children with family, relatives, or other legitimate and screened sponsors.   

The Causes

Deep historical roots involving US intervention

It has been well documented by historians that the countries of Central and South America have been ruled much of the time, certainly over the two hundred years, by authoritarian and self-serving government that siphon off foreign assistance money, promote foreign investment to extract resources, exploit cheap labor, and enable land grabs and unregulated treatment of corporations. And the US has been instrumental in fostering such conditions. Historian Greg Grandin provides an in-depth analysis of the US involvement in creating this system in his book, Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism (2006).

Legal scholar Majorie Cohn provides a concise summary, as follows.

“The history of U.S. intervention in the Northern Triangle countries has destabilized them and exacerbated the migrant crisis. “[W]e must also acknowledge the role that a century of U.S.-backed military coups, corporate plundering, and neoliberal sapping of resources has played in the poverty, instability, and violence that now drives people from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras toward Mexico and the United States,” (https://truthout.org/articles/trump-is-obliterating-the-right-to-asylum).

Recent examples

Alison Bodine and Tamara Hansen point to how the relationship between U.S. intervention in Latin America and the severe problems in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala “is most clearly expressed by the 2009 U.S.-backed coup in Honduras” (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2019/07/23/imperialist-made-crisis-migrants-and-refugees).They elaborate: “10 years ago, the United States backed a right-wing overthrow of the elected government of Manuel Zelaya. Since then, political repression, state violence, and increasing poverty in Honduras have escalated, creating structural and institutional vacuums, along with deep instability throughout the country. After the U.S. supported coup Honduras ended Manuel Zelaya’s presidency, a country with a prospect of political and economic development became a failed state.”

Trump and right-wing forces in the US frequently refer to the gangs, like MS-13, throughout the region, and how gang members are said to join migrants on their way to the US-Mexico border. There is little evidence that gangs are a large segment of the migrant flow to the U.S.-Mexico border. That said, gang violence is a prominent reason in causing the flight of migrants out of Central America. An often-overlooked part of the story is that the gangs, or many of them, were created in the US. On this point, Bodine and Hansen say the gangs “were first formed in U.S. prisons, and then transplanted to Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala when people were released from prison and then deported.” The cite UNHCR reports to illustrate some of the consequences, and write: “Current homicide rates are among the highest ever recorded in Central America. Several cities, including San Salvador, Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, are among the 10 most dangerous in the world. The most visible evidence of violence is the high rate of brutal homicides, but other human rights abuses are on the rise, including the recruitment of children into gangs, extortion and sexual violence” (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2019//07/23/imperialist-made-crisis-migrants-and-refugees

Diminishing opportunities

For the people in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, there are presently a growing number of farmers who cannot increasingly grow enough food to feed themselves, let alone a surplus with which to buy essentials. There are many others living in urban areas who, amid high levels of unemployment, can only find low-wage work, insecure work. And corrupt governments there offer too few and inadequate public assistance, while promoting policies that disproportionately benefit foreign corporations and their own wealthy classes. These are systemic problems.

Hannah Holleman documents in her book, Dust Bowls of Empire: Imperialism, Environmental Polices and the Injustice of “Green” Capitalism, that farmers not only in Central America but around the world have been locked into an agricultural system imposed by rich, capitalist countries that drive them into debt, degrades the soils and depletes water sources. This unsustainable situation is combined and made worse by the intensifying effects of climate disruption, reflected in increasing periods of drought and other extreme weather events.

The effects of climate disruption

Oliver Milman, Emily Holden, and David Agren address how climate change is increasingly figuring into the mass migration from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/oct/30/migrant-caravan-causes-climate-change-central-america). They report that “[w]hile violence and poverty have been cited as the reasons for the exodus, experts say the big picture is that changing climate is forcing farmers off their land – and it’s likely to get worse.” They confirm what so many others have found that most of the migrant caravans come from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, “the three countries devastated by violence, organized crime and systemic corruption, [have roots] which can be traced back to the region’s cold war conflicts.” Now people in these countries also being increasingly afflicted by climate change.

According to experts interviewed by Milman, Holden, and Agren, climate change “is likely to push millions more people north towards the US.” The journalists quote Robert Albro, a researcher at the Center for Latin American and Latino Studies at American University, says, “‘The focus on violence is eclipsing the big picture – which is that people are saying they are moving because of some version of food insecurity,’ And Albro continues: “‘The main reason people are moving is because they don’t have anything to eat. This has a strong link to climate change – we are seeing tremendous climate instability that is radically changing food security in the region.’” Albro adds: “Migrants don’t often specifically mention ‘climate change’ as a motivating factor for leaving because the concept is so abstract and long-term…. But people in the region who depend on small farms are painfully aware of changes to weather patterns that can ruin crops and decimate incomes.”

The crisis on the border now – the children

In an article published on March 23, 2021, Jessica Corbett reports on how children are being crowded in “border jails” and the Biden administration is limiting journalists’ access to the detention facilities (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2021/03/23/biden-restricts-media-access-photos-show-children-crowded-borders-jail). Over the weekend of March 20-21, Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) shared photos taken at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) overflow facility in Donna, Texas. The photos “reveal the crowded, makeshift conditions at the border as the government’s longer-term child shelters and family detention centers fill up.

Corbett writes: “The CBP, a Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is supposed to transfer most unaccompanied children to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) within 72 hours. However, thousands of minors have recently been held past that legal limit. As of Saturday [March 20], according to a DHS document leaked to Axios, 3,314 children had been in custody longer than three days, 2,226 more than five days, and 823 over 10 days.” She also refers to an interview conducted by “The View” on Monday, March 22, with Jacob Soboroff, author of Separated: Inside an American Tragedy, a book on former President Trump’s immigration policies. Soboroff said that part of the problem now is “the Biden administration isn’t letting us [reporters] go see them [the children] for ourselves.” Soboroff also points out that the border facilities now being used to house the children are “just like the Trump used during separations,” that is, “the same type of punitive, jail-like facility operated by the Border Patrol agents who are there as law enforcement agents. They wear guns on their hip… that’s what this is.”

At a news briefing on Monday, March 22, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki is quoted as saying that “I hope to have an update in the coming days. We are working… with the Department of Health and Human Services and also the Department of Homeland Security, to ensure privacy and ensure we’re following Covid protocols. We remain committed to transparency, and, of course, as I noted last week, we certainly want to make sure that the media has access to these sites.” Psaki added: “the photos released by Cuellar ‘show what we’ve long been saying, which is that these Border Patrol facilities are not places made for children. They are not places that we want children to be staying for an extended period of time. Our alternative [a rejected alternative] is to send children back on this treacherous journey. That is not, in our view, the right choice to make.”

At the same time, Psaki attempts confusingly to defend the position that this is not a border crisis but a situation that stems from “children presenting at our border who are fleeing violence, who are fleeing prosecution, who are fleeing terrible situations, is not a crisis. We feel that it is our responsibility to humanely approach this circumstance and make sure they are treated… and put into conditions that are safe.” Psaki is right in identifying the conditions that are pushing migrants to the U.S. border. But it is also a crisis at the border that reflects the unpreparedness of the Biden administration to care for the children safely and expeditiously. In this regard, Corbett reports, “The Week’s Ryan Cooper wrote in a column Tuesday that the “most honest criticism of Biden’s immigration record is that he has not reversed Trump’s appalling, illegal practices fast enough (nor those of his predecessor, which were nearly as bad).” Cooper concluded the interview with this statement: “It’s true that it would be much cheaper and simpler to deflate the frenzy of media hysteria by doing what Trump did—basically closing the border, throwing penniless refugees back over it, and forcing Mexico to deal with the problem. Dealing with migrants in a fair and humane fashion will require money, patience, and good administration.”

The politics

Republicans and others on the right want to politicize the crisis. If successful, they can divert the public attention away from the administration’s progress in the struggle against the Covid-19 pandemic, the popularity of the $1.9 trillion covid-relief package, and from massive efforts by Republicans in states to suppress the votes of Democrats and subvert democracy, while shifting attention to the present humanitarian-refugee crisis. At the same time, the Biden administration is, as noted, currently hard pressed to handle the surge at the border, especially that of the migrant children who are coming to the border unaccompanied and the families with a single parent and a child or children.

The Republican approach: support Trump’s right-wing policies to keep out most migrants

Go back to extending the “wall”

Wikipedia gives a useful account of Trump’s build-the-wall saga (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trump_wall). Trump promised to construct a much larger border wall than the one that existed during his 2016 presidential campaign, “claiming that if elected he would ‘build the wall and make Mexico pay for it.” This would be a wall that would extend the entire almost 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border. The President of Mexico at the time, Enrique Pena Nieto, stated that his country would not pay for the wall. And, up to the present, this has been the unwavering position of the Mexican government.

On January 25, 2017, after being elected, “Trump signed Executive Order 13767, which formally directed the US government to begin attempting wall construction along the US border with Mexico using existing federal funding,” though “actual construction did not begin at this time due to the significant expense and lack of clarity on how it would be funded.

Trump continued to grapple with Democrats in Congress through 2017 over funding and threatened at his rallies and through his tweets to shut down the government if Congress did not approve funding. Congress refused and Trump did partially shut down the federal government for 35 days, from December 22, 2018 to January 25, 2019, and insisted that he would “veto any spending bill that did not include $5.7 billion in border wall funding.” This turned out to be the longest government shut down in US history. In the end, Trump lost this battle and did not get the funding he wanted.

The persistence of Trump on obtaining funding from Congress for the border wall continued. Congress did authorize $1.4 billion for border security, but that did not satisfy the president. On February 15, 2019, he “signed a Declaration of National Emergency, saying that the situation at the Mexico-United States border is a crisis requiring money allocated for other purposes to be used instead to build the wall.” Following this, “Congress passed a joint resolution to overturn the emergency order, but Trump vetoed the resolution.” This led Trump to say that he would go ahead and transfer already authorized funds for other purposes (e.g., military funds) to be transferred to wall building projects. Up to the present, July 2019, this effort has been stopped by the courts (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-06-29/judge-blocks-trump-s-funding-plan-for-more-sections-of-the-wall). However, the Supreme Court then ruled to allow Trump to shift $2.5 billion from other agency budgets to border security (July 26, 2019).

According to the US Customs and Border Protection agency, as of July 2019, construction “had begun to replace old fencing [but] no new wall had yet been built” with government money. Republicans want to re-start the effort.

There are currently “a series of vertical barriers” along the border, “a discontinuous series of physical obstructions variously classified as ‘fences’ or ‘walls.’” In January 2019, there were 580 miles of barriers in place, according to US Customs and Border Protection. There are also other security measures [many in place before Trump], “provided by a ‘virtual fence’ of sensors, cameras, and other surveillance equipment used to dispatch United States Border Patrol agents to areas where migrants are attempting to cross the border illegally. Legal expert Marjorie Cohn points out that Trump was” increasing his illegal militarization of the southern border by deploying 2,100 additional troops to join the 4,500 military personnel already there” (https://truthout.org/articles/trump-is-obliterating-the-right-to-asylum).

Other Trump policies designed to reduce migrant entry to the U.S.

In addition to the Trump wall, Trump and his administration adopted other policies designed to keep migrants from entering the country. When one policy didn’t work or is met with public outrage, Congressional opposition, and/or legal challenges, another one with the same intent is concocted. They wanted to make conditions so bad that word among migrants would get back to others in their home countries that the costs of migration to the US-Mexico border are too great to justify the arduous and dangerous trek of over a thousand miles from Central America, through Mexico, to the border with the US. In advancing such policies, they ignore or dismiss the deteriorating and unsafe conditions in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and other countries that compel them to migrate.

Make processing of refugee and asylum claims complex and designed to fail

Immigration lawyer Jennifer Harbury provides further details in an interview on Democracy Now on the process by which migrants seek “legal resettlement,” or legal entry, into the U.S. It’s complex that requires asylum seekers provide not only considerable documentation but must satisfy other requirements as well. And it was subverted by Trump (https://www.democracynow.org/2018/7/9/human_rights_lawyer_jennifer_harbury_on). Here is what some of what she said.

“…under 8 U.S.C. 1225, [a person] goes up to the port of entry, knocks on the door and literally says, ‘I’m in danger. I need to apply for asylum.’ And as I said earlier, they then go to a credible fear interview [no criminal record] and then to a detention center, initially, and they’ll be put in proceedings before an immigration judge… if they’ve got perfectly good identification, they’ve never committed a crime, they’re not a threat to anyone, they’re just on the run from the cartels, and they have legal status relatives, citizen or LPR [legal permanent resident of the U.S.], who will take them in and sponsor them and pay all their expenses.”

At that point in the process, a person or parent and children who satisfied all these requirements would pre-Trump have “always been released” on conditional approval of resettlement. Trump contemptuously calls this a “catch and release” policy that he was determined to end and contended that most migrants under these circumstances did not return for scheduled court appearances. The evidence indicates otherwise. Caitlin Dickerson cites information from Heidi Altman, director of policy at the National Immigrant Justice Center that case management programs used in the past to ensure immigrants show up for court have proven to be “both cheaper than detention and have a proven track record of near universal court compliance (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/22/us/immigration-detention.html).

Trump succeeded in reducing legal, asylum requests

In an article published on Nov. 20, 2020, for the Migration Policy Institute, Muzaffar Chishti and Jessica Bolter make four points about “the Trump effect” on legal immigration Levels (https://www.migrationpolicy.org/trump-effect-immigration-realty). The say that the Trump policies have had “immediate and dramatic effects.”

(1) “The administration has sharply lowered refugee admissions, arguing that refugees pose a national security threat and impose a significant financial burden on federal and local governments. In FYs 2018 and 2020, the Trump administration admitted the lowest numbers of refugees since the current U.S. refugee resettlement program began in 1980: 22,491 and 11,814 respectively. This was a significant drop compared to the 84,995 refugees resettled in FY 2016.”

(2) “The administration has also significantly narrowed eligibility for asylum in the United States, for example by eliminating certain grounds for asylum and making it almost impossible to be granted asylum or, more recently, even apply for it at the border. These changes have led many to conclude that the prospects for receiving asylum in the United States have largely ended.”

(3) Despite the attempts to reduce successful asylum claims, the number of asylum seekers whose claims were approved actually increased during the Trump years—to the highest level since at least 1990. This is partly because there have been many more asylum applicants in recent years, and the backlog has been growing for several years. In many instances, applications that were approved while Trump was in office were filed during the Obama administration.

(4) “At the same time, asylum denials have increased even more than approvals, meaning that although the number of asylum grants increased, the approval rate has concurrently decreased, from 43 percent in FY 2016 to 29 percent in FY 2019. Furthermore, the Trump administration’s dramatic narrowing of opportunities to apply for asylum has contributed to fewer new applications being filed. Since these applications can take a long time to process, it is likely that, absent major policy reversals, the number of approved asylum cases will fall substantially in coming years.”

Metering: To delay entry and hope that migrants return to their home countries

The metering method, begun in mid-2018, requires migrants who have come to the border claiming the right of asylum to sign their name on a “notebook,” be given a number, sometime later be called for an asylum hearing before an immigration judge, but in the meantime be required to remain on the Mexican-side of the border. often without shelter and other basic requirements of life and neighborhoods that are unsafe. Some give up and try to enter the US illegally. If they are caught on the US-side of the border, they often will be put in a detention facility until their asylum status is assessed by an immigration judge. This may take weeks, months, or more. Either way, they can be in a limbo time awaiting an official decision on whether they will be granted asylum or not.

“Remain in Mexico”

In this case, migrants who reach the US side of the border are told to return to the Mexican towns near the border, which are often violent places with limited or no shelters or centers in which they can stay, and, as transits, they are particularly vulnerable. Marjorie Cohn, professor-emeritus of law and prolific writer tells us that “Remain in Mexico” policy the colloquial name for “Migrant Protocols Program” (https://truthout.org/articles/trump-is-obliterating-the-right-to-asylum). It is a program designed to return asylum seekers and migrants to Mexico. It differs from the metering program in that it offers no official opportunity to be considered for asylum in the US. In both cases, they are prevented from entering the US for an asylum hearing. The “Remain in Mexico” program began on January 25, 2019. Within five months, Cohn writes, “the U.S. had returned 15,079 people – including at least 4,780 children – who came mostly from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, to Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. Human Rights Watch reported at least 29 instances of harm to asylum seekers in Juárez, including kidnapping, violent attacks and sexual assaults.”

Punitive, long-term detention

If they have gained entrance into the country with a pending asylum claim, have been apprehended after entering the country “illegally,” or give themselves up an entry port without asylum-appropriate papers, they are sometimes put into sorely inadequate detention facilities that are ill-suited to provide even minimally adequate space, food, heat or cooling, medical care, or decent accommodations for children. Marjorie Cohn also addresses this issue with her typical legal and analytical expertise (https://truthout.org/articles/indefinite-detention-of-migrants-violates-international-law).

On June 26, 2018, according to Cohn, a federal judge in San Diego ordered the Trump administration to stop separating children from their parents and to reunite them. This was after 2,300 children had been separated since May 5. Then on June 29, “the Department of Justice filed a notice of compliance with the court order, but indicated its intention to indefinitely detain families together.” Cohn adds that indefinite detention violates international law, noting that such detention can last for months or even years. On July 2, “a federal judge in Washington ordered the government to give asylum applicants a meaningful opportunity to be released…. [But] More than 1,000 applicants have been incarcerated for months or years with no resolution of their cases.”

According to Cohn, the indefinite detention policy of the Trump administration violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the US has ratified, and the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, “which says treaties shall be the supreme law of the land.” According to the UN Human Rights Committee, “the expert body that monitors compliance with the covenant, detentions are arbitrary [and unlawful] if they do not accord with due process and are manifestly disproportional, unjust or unpredictable,” and “Keeping families locked up for months with no good reason is unjust and inappropriate. It denies them due process and a timely resolution of their legal claims. And their time of release is unpredictable.” Cohn points out that “Negative effects of prolonged detention may amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, in violation of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which the United States has ratified.”

There are exceptions under this law: “Parties to the covenant may refuse to comply with them only ‘in time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation.’ But, Cohn quotes Aflred de Zayas, UN independent expert on the promotion of a democratic and equable international order, who says “Neither the war on terror nor restrictive immigration policies justify indefinite detention.”

Make conditions in detention facilities atrocious – even for children

As already indicated, the conditions in the detention facilities are bad. Adam Serwer reviews evidence on the conditions in an article for The Atlantic magazine on July 3, 2019 (https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/07/border-facilities/593239).

Observers who have visited immigration detention facilities in the Southwest have “reported that children were being held in cruelly austere conditions.” They told the press that at the facility in Clint, Texas, children, as young as 7 and 8 were sleeping on concrete floors and being denied soap and toothpaste. Many of the children were “described as wearing clothes caked with snot and tears … caring for infants they’ve just met.’ Serwer quotes a visiting doctor called the detention centers “torture facilities.” He refers to reports that “at least seven children have died in U.S. custody in the past year, compared with none in the 10 years prior.” And, astoundingly, Serwer writes that “[m]ore than 11,000 children are now being held by the U.S. government on any given day.” Beyond such beastly deprivations, “the administration has canceled recreational activities, an act that, like the conditions themselves, likely violates the law.”

There’s more evidence. According to Serwer, “At a processing center in El Paso, Texas, 900 migrants were ‘being held at a facility designed for 125. In some cases, cells designed for 35 people were holding 155 people,’ The New York Times reported. One observer described the facility to Texas Monthly as a ‘human dog pound.’ The government’s own investigators have found detainees in facilities run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement being fed expired food at detention facilities, ‘nooses in detainee cells,’ ‘inadequate medical care,’ and ‘unsafe and unhealthy conditions.’ An early-July inspector-general report found ‘dangerous overcrowding’ in some Border Patrol facilities and included pictures of people crowded together like human cargo. More than 50,000 people are being held in facilities run by ICE, and something close to 20,000 in facilities run by Customs and Border Protection, and more than 11,000 children in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services. (The government describes them as “unaccompanied,” a label immigration advocates say is misleading because many were separated by the government from the relative who brought them) Some of the people detained by the U.S. government have entered the United States illegally or overstayed their visas; some are simply seeking to exercise their legal right to asylum.”
Serwer continues.

“‘There were definitely parts of the Obama program that did similar—and, in fact, some of the same—things,’ said Chris Rickerd, a policy counsel at the ACLU. ‘But this all-encompassing skepticism of asylum seekers fleeing violence—justifying cruel treatment, justifying changes in the law, and justifying overcrowding to the point of unsafe and deadly conditions—[is] of a scale and a type that we haven’t seen before.’ One pediatrician who visited a Border Patrol facility in Texas observed ‘extreme cold temperatures, lights on 24 hours a day, no adequate access to medical care, basic sanitation, water, or adequate food.’ Photographs show migrants huddled together, languishing in filth behind chain-link fences, some with little more than Mylar blankets for shelter. The president’s defenders on Fox News have compared these conditions to summer camp and house parties.”

These policies are intentional, or as Serwer writes, “deliberately inflicted suffering on children to deter illegal immigration, with its use of family separation. It has altered immigration policy and the asylum process so as to force the authorities to hold migrants, whether they have properly sought asylum at a port of entry or crossed illegally, and has made it more difficult for children to be released to sponsors in the United States by threatening to arrest and deport family members who lack legal status. By deliberately throttling the asylum process, the administration has pushed desperate migrants to risk death by crossing the border illegally rather than presenting themselves at ports of entry, and has sought to prosecute those who would help migrants survive the journey by leaving them food and water, effectively making the federal misdemeanor of illegal entry a capital crime. In private, some Border Patrol agents consider migrant deaths a laughing matter; others are succumbing to depression, anxiety, or substance abuse.”

The initial border experience of the Biden Administration is problematic 

Sean Sullivan and Nick Miroff report on March 15 in The Washington Post how Republicans, reporters, centrist Democrats, some from the left are criticizing the Biden administration for its inability thus far to deal with chaotic and inhumane situation at the border (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/biden-immigration-political-threat). In February, for example, illegal crossings at the border skyrocketed, topping “100,000, a 28 percent increase from the previous month.” Custom and Border Protection figures indicate the surge will continue, as there have been already in March “more than 4,000 border apprehensions each day.” The border situation is made especially problematic because “so many crossing the border are minors”

The critics of Biden’s handling of the border crisis

Sullivan and Miroff give the following examples. They report that “Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the top House Republican took a trip to the border on that day (March 1), visiting a processing center in El Paso to slam Biden’s approach, told reporters: “There’s no other way to claim it than a Biden border crisis.” Republicans are “laying the groundwork for immigration-centric attacks in the midterm elections” and are claiming already that Biden and the Democrats are weak on the border and letting everybody in and “that huge flow of migrants presents safety risks and could worsen the pandemic.” The Republicans want to shut down the border and keep all unacceptable (that is, the great majority of) migrants out of the country, including unaccompanied children. “They’ve been negligent,” Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), NRSC chairman, said of the Biden administration. “It’s bad for the country to not have a secure border.” They want Trump’s deterrent policies reinstituted, the construction of the border wall to continue, and generally making it hard for migrants, whatever their legal status, to enter the U.S.

There are other critics as well. Sullivan and Miroff also quote Neha Desai, “an immigration attorney who recently visited a detention site, who said that while the conditions there have greatly improved from the Trump era, ‘it is unacceptable for children to be spending days on end in dramatically overcrowded facilities.’” And: “Centrist Democrats are nervous about attacks casting them as soft on border security,” while “[l]iberals and immigration activists are sounding alarms about how migrants are treated.” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary acknowledged the problem at a press conference on March 15, but blaming the Trump administration for leaving the present administration with “a dismantled and unworkable system.”

There is a lingering concern about whether “Biden’s rhetoric was heavily responsible for the influx of migrants.” Sullivan and Miroff report: “Last week, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said the new U.S. president had stirred hopes for many Central Americans seeking to immigrate or reunite with loved ones already here and quote Obrador as saying the migrants “see him as the migrant president.” The dilemma for Biden then has become that his “promise of a gentler, more humane immigration policy was central to his campaign — but that very message has prompted an influx that the administration is finding hard to control.”

The Biden administration and supporters on the border crisis: It will take time and it is not as bad as it was under Trump

Sean Sullivan and Nick Miroff report that “[a]dministration officials on Monday urged patience and emphasized how much the Trump policies, including cutting off ­legal immigration channels and regional funding, have affected what they have been able to do out of the gate.” They continue: “To rebut political attacks, they plan to underscore the comprehensive nature of their border approach and are highlighting their commitment to the safety of migrant children.” At the same time, “they admit it will take time” and some admit that the Biden administration may have loosened enforcement at the border prematurely. While most single adult migrants continue to be sent back to Mexico, “the Biden administration halted the practice for teens and children. Since then, their numbers have more than tripled to roughly 500 per day.” Nonetheless, some of Biden’s supporters say the situation is not as bad for children as it was under Trump.

The administration is trying to ease the crisis through temporary emergency measures. It is treating “the crisis as a capacity shortage that can be managed by opening additional shelters, rather than one that requires a major policy shift.” Thus, “CBP is looking at adding tent sites in Yuma and Tucson, for example, to ease overcrowding in border stations in Arizona, according to one official with knowledge of the plans who spoke on the condition of anonymity.” Sullivan and Miroff report that there may be “pushback from communities that do not want undocumented immigrants in their area.”

Neha Desai, the attorney with the National Youth Law Center who represents migrant children, was able to visit a tent site last week in Donna, Tex., that is filled far beyond capacity. The facility is not comparable to the Border Patrol warehouse whose chain-link holding pens were denounced as cages in 2018, Desai said. But she still has concerns. ‘What we saw concerned us profoundly, but I think we share the same goals as the Biden administration,’ she added. ‘No one wants to see these children hungry, terrified and apart from their family.’” The Administration for Children and Families at the Department of Health and Human Services has opened an “Emergency Intake” site in Midland, Tex., with assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency” and being “staffed by the American Red Cross, private contractors and federal workers.”

Still, Sullivan and Miroff note that “[m]any liberal Democrats have voiced concerns about how children are being treated, even as they acknowledge a difference from the Trump years. As one example, they quote Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif): “The administration and Congress must prioritize better housing for these children while their asylum cases are being adjudicated,”

The crisis was “unexpected”

Whatever the causes, Dan Balz, analyzes “the unexpected challenge for Biden and his team” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/the-surge-of-migration-presents-an-unexpected-challenge-for-biden-and-his-team). The Biden administration got off to a good start for most of the first 60 days, as it accelerated “the pace of vaccinations while muscling through Congress the nearly $2 trillion American Rescue Plan over united Republican opposition.” The administration also signaled a shift  from the immigration policies of Trump by signing “a proclamation calling for a halt on construction of the border wall” and proposing legislation to “rewrite the immigration laws, including an eventual pathway to citizenship for the more than 11 million immigrants who are here without documentation.” But the surge in undocumented migrants threatens to detract from these initiatives.

The news coverage now focuses on the “surge on the border, which included a substantial increase in the number of unaccompanied minors,” and “the humanitarian emergency and a political mess-in-the-making that it is ill-prepared to handle.” Balz notes that “administration officials “have blamed the Trump administration for some of its problems, claiming they inherited a broken and punitive system.” Nonetheless, they are now faced with confounding situations. “What to do when someone crosses the border illegally?” And

“just how strictly should the law be enforced and what are the consequences of either doing or not doing so?”

In an interview with ABC’s earlier in March, Balz reports that “Biden dismissed the idea that the surge of migration is a result of his more welcoming attitude, as some of them reportedly have told U.S. officials” and has said that migrants should not come now: ‘Don’t leave your town or city or community.’” Biden went on to explain “that the U.S. government would be setting up centers in these countries [Guatamala, Honduras, El Salvador] where asylum seekers could make their applications,” and asking “Mexico to absorb some of the influx.” All of this “will take time.” Meanwhile, Balz writes, the “challenge for the administration is to show that it can strike a balance between a more compassionate and humane immigration policy at the border and a policy that deals firmly with those who violate the law — and one that, ultimately, discourages people, including asylum seekers, from coming here in overwhelming numbers.”

There is no reason to anticipate that the number of refugees and asylum seekers will decrease. Balz quotes Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas “this past week [who] said the country is on pace for the highest number of individuals crossing the border in 20 years. As of Thursday, March 18, “there were an estimated 14,000 in U.S. hands.” Balz reports that the “administration is trying to expedite the process of moving them from the custody of Customs and Border Protection officials and into the hands of the Department of Health and Human Services and then, as soon as it is feasible, to relocate them with families or sponsors in the United States.”

The Republican response has been to claim that Biden favors open borders, while they want secure, virtually closed, borders, following in the footsteps of the Trump administration. There have also been criticisms from the left, demanding that he deal with the situation quickly and humanely. The challenge for Biden is “to expedite the handling of the unaccompanied minors, to establish a clear policy and to calibrate its messaging both for those in other countries and for a domestic audience that will be judging the administration.”

Who is responsible for the crisis at the border?

Linda Qiu does a fact-check on some of the claims associated with three related question (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/20/us/politics/fact-check-immigration-border.html).

First, she identifies the competing positions, writing: “With the number of migrants apprehended at the southwestern border expected to reach a two-decade high, Republicans are blaming President Biden for the surge, while Democrats argue that immigration system he inherited left him ill-prepared.”

#1 – To deport children or provide them with immediate assistance on the US-side of the border

Qiu cites a claim by Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden’s secretary of homeland security, who said at a congressional hearing on March 17 that “The previous administration was expelling these unaccompanied children, some who are girls under the age of 12, for example, back to Mexico. We ended that practice.”

 Qiu finds this statement to be misleading, writing: “The practice of expelling unaccompanied children ended thanks to a court ruling before Mr. Biden took office, though his administration declined to resume expulsions when an appeals court decided it could do so.” She refers to how “the threat of the coronavirus and using a public health emergency law known as Title 42” led the Trump administration to announce in March of 2020 “that it would send back to their home countries people who illegally crossed the southwestern border, rather than detaining and processing them.” However, in November, “a federal judge ruled that the administration could not expel unaccompanied children.” She continues: “As a result, expulsions of unaccompanied children fell from nearly 3,200 in October to 1,520 in November to just three in December and 18 in January.” Then, in late January 2021, an appeals court stayed that ruling, “once again allowing the expulsion of children, but the Biden administration has decided against the practice. It continues to send back adults and families, however.”

The major implication of these events is that the Trump administration wanted to deport children who had recently arrived at the US-side of the border but was eventually kept from doing so by a court order. And, despite a decision by an appeals court to allow such deportations, the Biden administration has decided against the practice of expelling children and parents with children.

#2 – “Republicans have mischaracterized Mr. Biden’s immigration policies, especially in relation to the virus.

Biden’s policies are not “open border” policies

Qiu cites a statement made by Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas in an interview on Monday, March 15: The Biden border crisis, though, was created by Joe Biden’s promises of amnesty and open borders and free health care for illegals during the campaign.”

According to the fact check, Cotton’s statement is exaggerated. Consistent with the Biden administration’s immigration policy, Biden “has proposed a pathway for citizenship for the undocumented immigrants currently residing in the United States and revoked the previous administration’s policy that required asylum seekers to remain in Mexico as they awaited decisions on their cases.” At the same time, Qiu points out, “Mr. Cotton is wrong that Mr. Biden promised ‘free health care’ for undocumented immigrants.” Rather, Biden’s plan, gives immigrants, those already residing in the US and those who will follow, the opportunity to “buy health care plans including a proposed public option on exchanges set up by the Affordable Care Act.”

Qiu also refers to a quote by Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, in an interview on Sunday, March 14, on Fox News.

“Yes, the signals that the Biden administration is sending by eliminating the migrant protection program or ‘Remain in Mexico’ program that was negotiated with the Mexican government, and as well as the failure to enforce the Title 42 public health order, which basically give the Border Patrol the ability to keep people out of the country who may infect the U.S. population, basically, they’re ignoring all of that.”

Qiu finds Cornyn’s reference to Title 42 to be inaccurate. The Biden administration has decided not to expel unaccompanied children, despite a court ruling allowing the practice. At the same time, the administration “has continued Title 42 expulsions of most border crossers,” other than children. Qiu adds: “In fact, out of the more than 100,000 encounters at the southwestern border in February, 72,000 led to expulsions.”

#3 – Lawmakers omitted context in describing border crossing trends.

Qiu refers to contrasting statements on the culpability of the Biden administration in the recent surge in refugees and asylum seekers at the border. Republican Senator from Louisiana, Bill Cassidy, said on an interview on Fox News the following: “You can’t help but notice that the administration changes and there’s a surge.” Democratic Representative of Texas, Veronica Escobar made the following statement on CNN (March 14): “We began seeing the increase in unaccompanied minors going back to last April 2020. This is not something that happened as a result of Joe Biden becoming president. We saw the increases dating back almost a year. And this was during the Trump administration.”

Qiu finds that Cassidy “is ignoring that encounters with migrants at the border have been ticking up for months before Mr. Biden took office, while Ms. Escobar is downplaying that the increases accelerated in February.” Jessica Bolter, a policy analyst at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, said “It’s both. We have been seeing an increase in overall encounters at the border since April of 2020, and there was a bigger increase than we’ve seen in the past few months in February.” Qiu cites evidence from the Border Patrol is verify Bolter’s view. According to the Border Patrol, “agents encountered unaccompanied children at the southwestern border 741 times in April 2020, the lowest monthly level in a decade. That number did gradually increase over the last few months of Mr. Trump’s presidency. But in February, Border Patrol agents recorded more than 9,400 encounters with unaccompanied children, a 61 percent increase since January, a 170 percent increase from February 2020 and the highest number since May 2019.”

There are both push and pull factors that creating the upsurge. “The push factors are at the highest they’ve been at quite some time,” said Mr. Reichlin-Melnick, ticking off political corruption, instability, poverty and violence in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. The economic toll of the pandemic and two hurricanes that battered the region toward the end of last year further exacerbated difficult conditions.” The pull factors include the hope for better economic opportunities and the chance to reunite with family already residing in the United States. Qiu also thinks that Biden’s policies may have had an additional tug: “Rescinding the Remain in Mexico policy, halting the construction of a border wall, and ending agreements allowing the United States to return asylum seekers to Central American countries ‘have motivated people to try to enter illegally now,’ asserted Jessica M. Vaughan of the Center for Immigration Studies, which promotes lower levels of immigration.”

Whether or not those specific policies spurred the rise, Biden’s promises of a more humane border policy have been one of the factors in increased migration — a point acknowledged by White House officials and by people crossing the border themselves.

The elements of a comprehensive immigration policy on asylum seekers

One can imagine progressive and radical alternatives that, if implemented, would in various combinations, reduce the suffering of migrants and increase the number who are permitted to enter the US. It would adhere to international and national laws on refugees, while expanding the criteria that define a legitimate asylum claim. It would decriminalize those who are caught trying to enter illegally. It would expedite the asylum process so that migrants who satisfy the criteria can enter the country without long waits. There would not be the dreadful detention facilities that exist under Trump, rather there would adequately-resourced and humanely managed facilities for those who have crossed the border illegally or who are waiting for an asylum decision by an immigration judge. Children would not be separated from their parents and unaccompanied children, those who come without a parent or legal guardian, would be housed in appropriate facilities until homes were found for them. Those permitted to relocate in the US would be provided with transitional assistance, unless that had relatives or other sponsors who were able to assist them.

And, ideally, the conditions in their home countries that drive people to immigrate would be mitigated. Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) has some suggestions, as follows:

“Mr. Biden should engage the leaders of the Western Hemisphere for a summit that identifies shared responsibilities, challenges and opportunities. Engaging Northern Triangle countries, fully restoring the Central American Minors program (which allows children to apply for refugee status in their home countries) and reinstating aid (practices curtailed by former President Donald Trump) is a good start. But a multilateral approach must include our Canadian allies and address the causes of the migration coming not just from Central America but from Mexico as well. We need a shared plan with a focus on security to combat crime and persecution that includes cracking down on gangs and other criminal organizations and creates accountability for politicians and officials who turn a blind eye to criminals” (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/24/opinion/border-migrants-central-america.html).

In the end, the issue will be addressed or not, depending on politics and elections. Democratic leaders will be challenged to devise a humane immigration policy, as the number of migrants seeking entrance to the U.S. continues to be large for years to come, stretching border resources, the tolerance of voters, limited by other crises affecting the country, and with poisonous opposition of the Republican Party, their massive electoral base, and the right-wing media.

The political battles that will determine whether U.S. democracy succeeds or fails

Bob Sheak, March 12, 2021

There are great challenges facing the United States. One of them involves the increasingly seemingly irreconcilable conflict between the two major political parties over what kind of country we should have. The Democratic Party favors a majority-based democracy as foundational. The Republican Party wants a limited electorate based largely on the mostly white, culturally-conservative, pro-Trump constituencies.  

The Republicans

The Republican Party supports a right-wing, reactionary agenda of tax cuts, wholesale deregulation, corporate welfare, privatization of public functions, unabated support for fossil fuels and a disregard for the climate crisis, inadequate support in the effort to control and offer relief from the Covid-19 pandemic, efforts to limit government insurance and public assistance programs, makiing the Supreme Court and federal judiciary even more right-wing bastions of reaction than they have been. Furthermore, Republicans want an immigration policy that separates children from families and, in effect, denies or interminably delays even valid asylum claims, along with little concern with gun regulation, prison reform, or police accountability. And it’s worse. Whatever else happens, the Republican Party will continue to be Trump’s party, based on his massive unquestioning, right-wing populous base, including the support of violent fringe groups, and energized by the “big lie” that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him, combined with various cultural and racial issues. As it stands now, the national Republican Party is a minority party, unable to win the majority of votes cast for presidential candidates, that relies on voter suppression, gerrymandering, and the unique, antiquated, and anti-democratic Electoral College to win presidential elections.

The Democrats

The Democratic Party supports an agenda that is center/left and the opposite of what Republicans want. The want progressive taxes, reasonable regulation, corporate accountability (including for CEOs and other executives). They have policies directed at climate change. They want to phase out coal and better regulate fracking, with the goal of phasing out oil and gas in twenty or thirty years. They support programs to put solar panels on government buildings and facilities and support plans of some auto maker to build electric cars. They want to strengthen government insurance and public assistance programs, nominate moderate and liberal justices to the courts. They wrestle with what to do about immigration, but are open to more efficacious and humane border policies than what Trump demanded. They favor some reform of guns, prisons, and police. They rely on experienced people to staff positions in the executive branch and communicate with the public on a timely basis. They listen to the scientists on the Covid-19 pandemic and are far better than the Trump administration in encouraging a growing supply of vaccines, in increasing the number of locations where people can be vaccinated, and in coordinating these efforts with state and local governments, while also continuing to inform the public about the safety of the vaccines and the need to continue wearing masks and doing other relevant hygienic tasks.   

The battle

Democrats now hold slim advantages in the House and Senate and have Joe Biden in the White House. They will only retain these advantages if they can overcome Republican obstruction, lies, voter suppression, racist and nativist fearmongering, and enact at least parts of their agenda. In this post, I focus on three current issues to exemplify what Republicans are attempting to do to subvert democracy and obstruct key Democratic initiatives: (1) voter suppression, (2) opposition to the Democrats’ initiative to expand the electorate, and (3) the unified Republican opposition (ultimately failed) in the Congress to Biden’s American Rescue Act. The question on the third point is whether the Democrats’ success in passing the legislation will be a precedent for more progressive legislation or a stand-alone victory.

With all this, Democrats only have a chance of maintaining control of the US House and US Senate in the 2022 midterm elections if they can continue to make progress against the Covid-19 pandemic, continue to find ways to advance their agenda through executive orders or through legislation that addresses the economic problems faced by a majority of Americans, and are able to mobilize voters in 202 as they did in 2020.  

Issue #1 – Republicans favor limitations on democracy

Michael Wines identifies what Republican legislators are doing to suppress the vote and alter election rules across the country (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/27/us/republican-voter-suppression.html). He writes: “Led by loyalists who embrace former President Donald J. Trump’s baseless claims of a stolen election, Republicans in state legislatures nationwide are mounting extraordinary efforts to change the rules of voting and representation — and enhance their own political clout.” They include “a slew of bills raising new barriers to casting votes, particularly the mail ballots that Democrats flocked to in the 2020 election.” Wines refers to a study by the Brennan Center for Justice, a liberal-leaning law and justice institute at New York University, which has identified 253 bills in 43 states that seek to tighten voting rules.

But there is more, “including tweaking Electoral College and judicial election rules for the benefit of Republicans; clamping down on citizen-led ballot initiatives; and outlawing private donations that provide resources for administering elections, which were crucial to the smooth November vote.” In addition, “there are already signs of an aggressive drive to further gerrymander political districts, particularly in states under complete Republican control.” For example, the “national Republican Party joined the movement this past week by setting up a Committee on Election Integrity to scrutinize state election laws, echoing similar moves by Republicans in a number of state legislatures.” The voter suppression initiatives focus on congressional districts and states where there have been large pro-Democratic turnouts, especially those areas where there are concentrations of African-Americans. On this point, Wines writes: “The issues are particularly stark because fresh restrictions would disproportionately hit minorities just as the nation is belatedly reckoning with a racist past, said Lauren Groh-Wargo, the chief executive of the voting advocacy group Fair Fight Action.”

Republicans justify the anti-democratic efforts by claiming they will stop voter fraud, though “multiple studies have shown barely exists.” Wines gives examples of what voter suppression looks like in some states. “Georgia Republicans would sharply limit early voting on Sundays, when many Black voters follow church services with ‘souls to the polls’ bus rides to cast ballots. On Friday [Feb. 26], a State Senate committee approved bills to end no-excuse absentee voting and automatic voter registration at motor vehicle offices.” Furthermore, “Republicans in Georgia, which Mr. Biden won by roughly 12,000 votes, lined up this week behind a State Senate bill that would require vote-by-mail applications to be made under oath, with some requiring an additional ID and a witness signature.”

Chris Walker also writes on voter suppression in Georgia (https://truthout.org/articles/georgia-bill-would-criminalize-giving-water-to-voters-waiting-in-long-lines). The Georgia General Assembly passed Bill 531 on Monday, March 1, that “would add a voter ID requirement for absentee ballots, limit the number and locations of early voting drop-off boxes, and reduce early voting days during the weekends prior to an election — including allowing just one Sunday to vote early.” The bill additionally includes an outlandish provision to charge individuals with misdemeanor crime if they had out food or drinks to voters standing in line on election days. Also, “A separate set of measures are also being considered in that legislative chamber, which would limit which voters could apply for absentee ballots, disallowing the state’s “no-excuse” practice of granting any voter who requests a ballot to get one.”

The report from the Brennan Center for Justice, alluded to previously, provides a detailed “roundup” of both restrictive and expansive state voting legislation (https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/voting-laws-round-up-february-2021). The evidence comes from election bills brought forth in 2021 legislative sessions in all but three states.

On the Republican side, amid “a rash of baseless and racist allegations of voter fraud and election irregularities…legislators have introduced well over four times the number of bills to restrict voting access as compared to roughly this time last year. Thirty-three states have introduced, prefiled, or carried over 165 restrictive bills this year (as compared to 35 such bills in fifteen states on February 3, 2020).” The bills “primarily seek to: (1) limit mail voting access; (2) impose stricter voter ID requirements; (3) slash voter registration opportunities; and (4) enable more aggressive voter roll purges. These bills are an unmistakable response to the unfounded and dangerous lies about fraud that followed the 2020 election.” For example, there are fourteen bills in nine states… would make the “excuse” requirement more stringent for absentee voting or eliminate “no excuse” mail voting. A Missouri bill, for example, would eliminate Covid-19 concerns as an excuse… while four different proposals in Pennsylvania seek to eliminate no-excuse mail voting, a policy just adopted with bipartisan support in 2019. Lawmakers in Arizona, Georgia, North Dakota, and Oklahoma also seek to eliminate no-excuse absentee voting.” 

Democrats are active on the electoral front as well. Democratic “lawmakers are seizing on an energized electorate and persistent interest in democracy reform (which is likewise reflected in Congress). To date, thirty-seven states have introduced, prefiled, or carried over 541 bills to expand voting access (dwarfing the 188 expansive bills that were filed in twenty-nine states as of February 3, 2020). Notably 125 such bills were introduced in New York and New Jersey.” According to the Center, “[t]hese bills focus primarily on: (1) mail voting; (2) early voting; (3) voter registration; and (4) voting rights restoration.”

The outcome of these initiatives will have a significant effect on the 2022 and 2024 elections. If the Republican succeed in further limiting access to the ballot in swing states like Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and if Democrats fail to get out the vote in the large numbers they did in 2020, then democracy in the US will be further diminished and authoritarian government based on minority-rule will be reinforced. Certainly, Trump and his authoritarian proclivities continue to have a dominating influence in the Republican Party at all levels.  

Signs of Republican authoritarianism – ideological radicalism

Professors of government Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt identify the signs of the rise of authoritarian behavior (How Democracies Die). First, “there is a rejection of (or weak commitment to) democratic rules of the game.” For example, authoritarians want to restrict basic civil or political rights (e.g., voter suppression). Second, authoritarians deny the legitimacy of their political opponents, as when they describe them as an “existential threat, either to national security or to the prevailing way of life,” “describe their partisan rivals as criminals.” Trump’s continuously bellowed “big lie” that the election was stolen and the support for this allegation by much of the Republican Party and Republican base. Third, authoritarians tolerate or encourage violence. They have “ties to armed gangs, paramilitary forces, militias….” Trump and many Republican legislators want to blame the January 6 attempted insurrection on leftist influences and dismiss the actual right-wing mob. Indeed, they encouraged “mob attacks on opponents.” There is little doubt that Trump incited and enflamed those who invaded the Capitol building. The refuse to unambiguously condemn violence and punish it. Fourth, authoritarians “curtail civil liberties of opponents, including the media.” For example, they support laws restricting protests and Trump has expressed his hatred toward the mainstream media as “fake news” and worse.

Issue #2 – Can Democrats overcome Republican opposition and the filibuster to expand voter rights and access

Ari Berman reports that House Democrats introduced legislation in late February designated as HR 1, For the People Act, which is described as the most significant democracy reform bill since the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (https://wwwmotherjones.com/politics/2021/03/the-house-is-poised-to-pass-a-major-voting-rights-bill-and-create-helluva-battle-in-the-senate). “The bill,” Berman writes, “would go a long way toward thwarting the new GOP voter-suppression efforts by enacting a wide range of pro-voter measures for federal elections,” including “nationwide automatic and Election Day registration; two weeks of early voting in every state; the expansion of mail-in voting; the restoration of voting rights to people convicted of a felony who have served their time; restrictions on discriminatory voter-ID laws and voter purges; and the creation of independent redistricting commissions for House districts to prevent extreme gerrymandering. The bill also cracks down on dark money by implementing public financing for congressional campaigns, and it establishes new ethics rules for federal officeholders.”

He reminds readers: “Nearly identical legislation passed the House in March 2019, but it was blocked in the Senate by then–Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who called it a ‘power grab’ for Democrats.” This year the legislation “has become an increasingly urgent priority for Democrats… following Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election, the insurrection at the Capitol, and the wave of GOP-backed proposals to restrict voting rights in key states, such as Georgia.” He points to examples of what the GOP wants to do, namely, “roll back mail-in voting, restrict ballot drop boxes, limit early voting, and repeal automatic voter registration.”

House Democrats were able to pass the “For the People Act” elections bill, on March 3, 2021 by a vote of 220 to 210, with no Republican votes. In its final form, the bill’s voting provisions “would,” Mike DeBonis reports, “guarantee no-excuse mail voting and at least 15 days of early voting for federal elections; require states to use their existing government records to automatically register citizens to vote; restore voting rights to felons who have completed their prison sentences; and mandate the use of paper ballots” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/house-elections-voting-pelosi).

DeBonis continues: “Other provisions would create new disclosure requirements for ‘dark money’ donations to political groups; require states to appoint independent commissions to draw congressional districts; and create new federal standards for election equipment vendors.” And the bill would also “require tech platforms to disclose political advertising information; establish a code of ethics for Supreme Court justices for the first time; restructure the Federal Election Commission to an odd number of members to break partisan deadlocks; and require presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns.”

Obstruction in the Senate

Now the bill goes to the Senate, where every Democrat has signaled support for the bill. According to DeBonis, “Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said this week that she expects to usher companion legislation through the Senate Rules Committee later this spring and ultimately to bring it to the floor. Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said, ‘If you’re ranking the most important legislation of the year, that is way up there.’ However, unless Democrats find a way around the filibuster, the Senate rules allow “a 41-vote minority to block most legislation from coming to a final vote.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has made clear that Republicans are totally opposed to the bill.

Therefore, the bill will only pass in the Senate if all Democrats are willing to abandon the 60-vote filibuster rule. Sens. Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) have said they will not entertain any changes, though they may relent to internal pressure from other Democratic Senators and finally go along with a filibuster-avoidance effort.

As it stands now, “Klobuchar plans to hold hearings on S 1, the Senate version of the voting rights bill, in the Rules Committee this month [March] and then advance the bill to the Senate floor, setting up a potential showdown over the filibuster.” In this likely eventuality, Democrats have options for circumventing a Republican filibuster in the Senate. Here’s what Berman writes on this point. “They could end the filibuster outright with a simple majority vote (with Vice President Kamal Harris casting a tie-breaking vote), or they could abolish the filibuster only for election-related bills that are critical for democracy, an idea floated by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) They could also force Republicans to speak continuously on the Senate floor to sustain a filibuster—as was done in the old days—which would make it tougher for Republicans to wield the filibuster. Another option: lower the threshold for passing filibustered bills from 60 votes to 55 votes.” Easier said than done.

Getting around the filibuster

The filibuster is based on the Senate’s cloture rule, “which” Molly E. Reynolds writes, “requires 60 members to end debate on most topics and move to a vote” (https://brookings.edu/policy2020/votervitals/what-is-the-senate-filibuster-and-what-would-it-take-to-eliminate-it). The Senate is evenly divided, with 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans. Given that Republicans are unified in their opposition to virtually any bill put forward by Democrats, this means that it is impossible for Democratically-supported legislation to pass in the Senate as long as this rule stands.

According to Reynolds, “Senators have…options when they seek to vote on a measure or motion. Most often, the majority leader (or another senator) seeks ‘unanimous consent,’ asking if any of the 100 senators objects to ending debate and moving to a vote. If no objection is heard, the Senate proceeds to a vote. If the majority leader can’t secure the consent of all 100 senators, the leader (or another senator) typically files a cloture motion, which then requires 60 votes to adopt. If fewer than 60 senators—a supermajority of the chamber—support cloture, that’s when we often say that a measure has been filibustered.” But there is a high hurdle when it comes to changing the rule, officially “Senate Rule 22.” Reynolds points out that “[e]nding debate on a resolution to change the Senate’s standing rules requires the support of two-thirds of the members present and voting. Absent a large, bipartisan Senate majority that favors curtailing the right to debate, a formal change in Rule 22 is extremely unlikely.”

Another option is to create a new Senate precedent, “colloquially known as the “nuclear option” and more formally as ‘reform by ruling’—can, in certain circumstances, be employed with support from only a simple majority ofsenators.” Such a precedent can be created, Reynolds explains, “by a senator raising a point of order, or claiming that a Senate rule is being violated. If the presiding officer (typically a member of the Senate) agrees, and has the support of a majority, which would mean that all fifty Senate Democrats plus the vice-president Kamala Harris agree, the ruling would establish a new precedent. This, in theory, would be the most direct way of avoiding a filibuster. The problem is that there are some Democrats who oppose this option and thus, for the time being, eliminate this option.

There are other options that include “ways to modify the filibuster without eliminating it entirely.” Reynolds refers to this option as a “mini-nuke” that bans filibusters on particular motions but otherwise leaves the 60-vote rule intact.” She gives this example: “a Senate majority could prevent senators from filibustering the motion used to call up a bill to start (known as the motion to proceed). This would preserve senators’ rights to obstruct the bill or amendment at hand, but would eliminate the supermajority hurdle for starting debate on a legislative measure.” The problem with this procedure is that the ultimate vote requires a supermajority and such a vote is virtually impossible in the current Senate.

Budget reconciliation

However, she points out, there is another way via “the so-called Byrd Rule, a feature of the budget reconciliation process.” Louis Jacobson provides some background: “The budget reconciliation process was written into the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 as a tool for lawmakers, but wasn’t used until 1980. Since then, it’s been used to produce a law 25 times, all but four of which were eventually signed by the president” (https://www.politifact.com/article/2021/02/08/what-you-need-to-know-about-budget-reconciliation-pro). He adds: “In the big picture, the idea of budget reconciliation is to use a two-step process for federal budgeting. The first step is to pass a blueprint that gives an outline of budgetary goals. The second step is passage of a bill to ‘reconcile’ those broad revenue-and-outlay goals into detailed implementing legislation.” The purpose: “to enhance Congress’s ability to bring existing spending, revenue, and debt limit laws into compliance with current fiscal priorities and goals established in the annual budget resolution.”

Richard Kogan gives some further details on when budget reconciliation has been employed (https://www.cbpp.org/research/federal-budget/introduction-to-budget-reconciliation).

He writes:

”Policymakers have enacted 21 budget reconciliation bills since 1980, the first year they employed the process; Congress approved four other measures but the President vetoed them.[1] Policymakers used reconciliation to enact major spending cuts during President Reagan’s first year in office, several deficit-reduction packages during the 1980s and 1990s, welfare reform in 1996, and the large Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003. More recently, reconciliation was used in 2010 to amend the Affordable Care Act and modify the federal student loan program,[2] and in 2017 to enact large tax cuts. Republican majorities also twice attempted to use the reconciliation process to repeal key elements of the Affordable Care Act; President Obama vetoed the first attempt, in 2016, and the second attempt, in 2017, failed to pass in the Senate.”

Budget reconciliation has limits. Kogan writes: “The Congressional Budget Act permits using reconciliation for legislation that changes spending, revenues, and the federal debt limit. On the spending side, reconciliation can be used to address ‘mandatory’ or entitlement spending — that is, programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, federal civilian and military retirement, SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), and farm programs — but not Social Security. Mandatory spending is determined by rules set in ongoing authorizing laws, so changing spending usually requires amending those laws.” It “has not been used to enact or rescind ‘discretionary’ spending, which is spending controlled through the annual appropriations process. There’s nothing in the Budget Act or other rules that prohibits providing new funding, or rescinding existing funding, for discretionary programs through reconciliation. But the various restrictions on reconciliation probably make the process impractical as a means of enacting annual appropriations.”

The Senate Democrats avoided the threat of a filibuster and, despite unified Republican opposition, passed “The American Rescue Plan,” President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package. It will go back to the House, where Democrats have a majority and where legislation will pass with a simple majority vote. So, in spite of unified Republican opposition in both the House and the Senate, one of President Biden’s top priorities is about to become law. There are, though, limits on the number of times budget reconciliation can be employed during a fiscal cycle.

There is, however, another wrinkle in the reconciliation process. Louis Jacobson points out that “[o]n the floor, any senator can raise a ‘point of order’ against a provision in the reconciliation bill.” Then: “Once an objection is raised,” Jacobson points out, “the nonpartisan Senate parliamentarian decides whether the provision is OK to stay in the bill. The presiding senator is obligated to follow that ruling.” That is, unless 60 Senators vote to override such a decision. As I will discuss later, the parliamentarian ruled that one part of the American Rescue Plan was inappropriate, that is, to increase in the minimum wage to $15, because, the parliamentarian surmised, the provision had no budgetary implications. So, in the absence of enough votes to override the decision the provision was dropped.

Biden’s “initial step”

Eugene Daniels reports that, while calling for progress on voting rights legislation, “President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Sunday [March 7] to promote additional access to voting. It came symbolically on the 56th anniversary of the march for voting rights in Selma, Ala., known as ‘Bloody Sunday’”(https://www.politico.com/news/2021/03/07/biden-voting-access-474041).

The order was described as an “initial step” to protect voting rights — one that uses ‘the authority the president has to leverage federal resources to help people register to vote and provide information,’ according to an administration official.” According to Daniels, “Federal agencies will be directed to notify states about the ways in which they can help with voter registration, in addition to being tasked with improving voting access to military voters and people with disabilities. Biden also directed the federal government to update and modernize Vote.gov, the website it operates to provide the public with voting-related information.”

It remains to be seen whether Biden’s executive order is an “initial step” or a last step in protecting and opening up access to voting. The prospects for the legislation avoiding a filibuster and being passed with a simple majority in the Senate appear to be low. At the same time, Congressional Democrats were just able to pass a Covid-19 relief act, the American Rescue Act, on the basis of reconciliation, circumventing a Republican filibuster and passing the legislation with a simple majority, 50 to 49 (one Republican was absent).

Issue #3: Democrats’ American Rescue Plan, a precedent for future legislation or not

The context

Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, provides some background information on the bill, as follows (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Rescue_Plan_Act_f_2021).  

“The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 is a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package proposed by President Joe Biden to speed up the United States’ recovery from the economic and health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing recession. His plan is for Congress to pass it as one of his first bills into law through the 117th Congress.[1] First proposed on January 14, 2021, the package builds upon many of the measures in the CARES Act from March and in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 from December.[2][3]

“Beginning on February 2, 2021, Democrats in the United States Senate started to open debates on a budget resolution that would allow them to pass the stimulus package without support from Republicans through the process of reconciliation….

“On February 8, 2021, the Financial Services and Education and Labor committees released a draft of $1.9 trillion stimulus legislation. A portion of the relief package was approved by the House Ways and Means on February 11, setting it up for a vote in the House. The legislation was also approved by the Transportation and InfrastructureSmall Business, and House Veterans Affairs committees. On February 22, the House Budget Committee voted 19–16 to advance the bill to the House for a floor vote.[4] The bill passed the House by a vote of 219–212 on February 27. All but two Democrats voted for the bill and all Republicans voted against the bill.[5] A modified version passed the Senate on March 6 by a vote of 50–49.[6]

On March 10, the House reconsidered the bill, as modified by the Senate, and voted 220 to 211 to pass the final version of the bill. Again, no Republicans voted for the bill (https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2021/03/10/what-is-in-the-stimulus).

The Democratic view

Democrats in the Congress argue that the legislation addresses economic problems facing millions of people that have arisen or been exacerbated by the year-long pandemic. Wikipedia provides a summary of some of the beneficial impacts (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Rescue_Plan_of_2021).

“The bill’s economic-relief provisions are overwhelmingly geared toward low-income and middle-class Americans, who will benefit from (among other provisions) the direct payments, the bill’s expansion of low-income tax credits, child-care subsidies, expanded health-insurance access, extension of expanded unemployment benefits, food stamps, and rental assistance programs.[86] The bill contains little direct aid to high income-earners, who largely retained their jobs during the COVID-19 economic shock and bolstered their savings.[86] Biden’s administration crafted the plan in part because economic aid to lower-income and middle-income Americans (who are more likely to immediately spent funds on bills, groceries, and housing costs to avoid eviction or foreclosure) is more likely to stimulate the U.S. economy than aid to higher-earners (who are more likely to save the money).[86] The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy found that the stimulus bill’s direct payments, child tax credit expansion, and earned income tax credit expansion would boost the income of poor one-fifth of Americans by nearly $3,590.[87] The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the bill’s increase in health insurance subsidies would lead to 1.3 million previously uninsured Americans gaining health insurance coverage.[88]

“An analysis by Columbia University‘s Center on Poverty and Social Policy estimated that the original stimulus proposal would reduce overall U.S. poverty by a third, reduce child poverty by 57.8% and reduce the adult poverty rate by more than 25%. However these estimates relied in part upon a minimum wage increase that was not included in the final bill, meaning effects on poverty may be notably different then anticipated in that study. [86][89] [90]

“The Tax Policy Center wrote that, for households making under $25,000, the bill would cut their taxes by an average of $2,800, which would boost their after-tax income by 20%. Additionally, low-income households with children would see an average tax cut of about $7,700, and this would boost their after-tax income by 35%. Middle-income households will also see an average tax cut of about $3,350, and this would increase their after-tax income by 5.5%. Overall, about 70% of the bill’s tax benefits will go to households making under $91,000.[91]

Sharon Zhang cites a new report by the D.C.-based think tank Urban Institute, which “finds that the $1.9 trillion stimulus will reduce the projected poverty rate for 2021 from 13.7 to 8.7 percent overall” (https://truthout.org/articles/zero-republicans-vote-for-stimulus-projected-to-raise-16-million-out-of-poverty). She also points out: “It will also shrink the racial poverty gap by reducing poverty among Black and Latinx people by 42 and 39 percent, respectively, the report says.” She additionally refers to provisions of the legislation that will have a big impact on lower-income people, especially “the additional unemployment checks, the extension of food stamp benefits, the $1,400 relief checks and the new expanded version of the child tax credit in the bill.” And there are provisions that expand the child tax credit that will reduce the poverty rate for children by more than half in 2021. The new child tax credit “expands upon the existing child tax credit by offering parents up to $3,600 per child over the next year in the form of monthly payments.” A Columbia University analysis “found that the bill will cut child poverty by half.”

Polls indicate that Biden’s American Rescue Plan is very popular and enjoys “overwhelming bipartisan support among the public.” Zhang refers to a CNN poll released on March 10 that finds 61 percent of Americans support the bill overall.” There is also public support for specific provision the legislation. “The poll also finds that 85 percent of those polled support the bill’s provisions to expand tax credits, including 95 percent of Democrats and 73 percent of Republicans — a far cry from the 0 percent buy-in from congressional Republicans. Moreover and “a 55 percent majority [expressed] support for the $15 minimum wage proposal that didn’t make it into the final bill.

Though the bill doesn’t include the vaunted progressive goal of raising the minimum wage, the American Rescue Plan does include provisions that have earned progressive praise.

Finally, Zhang reports that progressives joined other Democrats to support the American Rescue Plan. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) says it is “the most comprehensive pro-worker piece of legislation in the modern history of our country,” and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington), “the head of the Progressive Caucus [called it] “a truly progressive and bold package that delivers on its promise to put money directly in people’s pockets.”

An overview of the provisions of the legislation

Rachel Siegel provides a detailed breakdown of the final version of the American Rescue Plan (https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2021/03/10/what-is-in-the-stimulus).

Major buckets

Unemployment benefits:

The package extends the existing $300 weekly unemployment benefit through Sept. 6, as well as provides a tax break on $10,000 in unemployment benefits.

Earlier proposals would have increased the weekly benefit from $300 to $400 per week. But that amount was lowered to $300 after a lengthy standoff in the Senate.

The $900 billion stimulus package passed in December provided the unemployed an extra $300 per week in benefits. That program expires in mid-March.

Stimulus checks:

The bill would send $1,400 stimulus checks on top of the $600 payments issued through the stimulus bill passed in December. Roughly $400 billion of the package would go toward another round of checks.

Biden agreed to narrow eligibility for a new round of $1,400 payments to appease more moderate Democrats. Under the new structure, the checks would phase out faster for those at higher income levels compared with the formula in Biden’s initial proposal and the House bill.

Individuals earning $75,000 per year and couples earning $150,000 would still receive the full $1,400-per-person benefit. However, the benefit would disappear for individuals earning more than $80,000 annually and couples earning more than $160,000.

For example, that means singles making between $80,000 and $100,000 and couples earning between $160,000 and $200,000 would be newly excluded from seeing any benefit under the revised structure.

Child tax credit:

Under the legislation, most Americans would receive $3,000 a year for each child ages 6 to 17, and $3,600 for each child under age 6.

The provision in the bill would last one year and be sent via direct deposit on a “periodic” basis. It is a major expansion of the existing child tax credit, which provides $2,000 a year for children from birth through age 16.

The moreregular payments are intended to help offset costs families face day-to-day, instead of sending families one annual payment.

Aid to state and local governments:

The package designates $350 billion for states, cities, tribal governments and U.S. territories.

Local government funding emerged as one of the top flashpoints in stimulus negotiations. Moderate Senate Democrats have pushed to redirect some of those funds to invest in infrastructure and to expand the broadband network. Others on the left have grown concerned that some states would use federal aid to cut local taxes instead of spending money on covid relief.

Facing deep budget shortfalls, state and local governments have shed 1.3 million jobs since the pandemic began last year — a loss of more than 1 in 20 government jobs, according to a Washington Post analysis of government data. While tax revenue grew in some states last year, the majority — at least 26 states — were hit with declines.

Pandemic response

Tens of billions of dollars will fund coronavirus testing and contact tracing; increasing the size of the public health workforce and funding vaccine distribution and supply chains.

This week, Biden said there will be enough coronavirus vaccine doses for “every adult in America” by the end of May — a two-month acceleration of his previous projection of July.

Housing assistance

The bill sets aside more than $20 billion in emergency rental assistance and other relief for the homeless.

Another $10 billion goes to mortgage and homeownership assistance.

School support

The bill sets aside almost $130 billion to help K-12 schools reopen. That money would go to improving ventilation systems, reducing class sizes, buying personal protective equipment and implementing social distancing.

Colleges and other higher-education institutions would receive almost $40 billion. That money could help support financial aid grants to prevent hunger, homelessness or other challenges for students during the pandemic.

Additional funds would go to child care providers through the Child Care and Development Block Grant program. The bill also sets aside $1 billion for the Head Start program, which provides early-childhood education, health and nutrition services to low-income children and families.

New provisions

The bill provides $510 million for the FEMA Emergency Food and Shelter Program. That money would support homeless services providers for overnight shelter, meals, one month’s rent and mortgage assistance and one month’s utility payments.

It expands the Employee Retention Tax Credit for start-up companies and other businesses hit by the pandemic

The bill also increases the value of the federal COBRA health insurance program from 85 percent to 100 percent

The bill adds a $10 billion infrastructure program to help local governments continue crucial capital projects.

The bill makes all coronavirus-related student loan relief tax-free.

The bill increases the total amount of Amtrak relief funding by $200 million.

For education funding, the bill sets aside $1.25 billion for summer enrichment; $1.25 billion for after-school programs and $3 billion for education technology

The Senate bill also adds $8.5 billion in funds for the Provider Relief Program to assist rural health care providers.

Not in the bill

Minimum wage:

An amendment offered by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to increase the minimum wage to $15 did not win over enough Democratic support.

In a statement Friday, Sanders said: “If any Senator believes this is the last time they will cast a vote on whether or not to give a raise to 32 million Americans, they are sorely mistaken. We’re going to keep bringing it up, and we’re going to get it done because it is what the American people demand and need.”

Last month, the Senate parliamentarian ruled that the minimum wage hike was not permissible within the rules of budget reconciliation, the procedure Democrats are using to pass the relief bill with a simple majority instead of the 60 votes normally required. The House bill included the minimum raise increase from $7.25 to $15.

Republican objection: a bloated, wasteful bill

Republicans in the U.S. Congress argued that the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan will increase the government’s deficit and put a tax burden on future generations. They argue it is unnecessary because the pandemic is well controlled, will generate inflation and cause hardship as prices for goods and services go up, especially for those in lower-income groups. It is inspired, they also argue, by anti-American progressive/socialist beliefs that will lead to more centralized government and will negatively affect the private sector’s willingness to invest. Though there are more Republican concerns, they fundamentally maintain that much less than $1.9 trillion is needed. For example, on February 1, ten GOP Senators met with Biden to promote a much less expensive counterproposal, according to a report from The New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/live/2021/02/01/us/biden-administration).

Senator Susan Collins of Maine, the leader of the Republican group, proposed a $618 billion plan “which would include many of the same elements as Mr. Biden’s plan, with $160 billion for vaccine distribution and development, coronavirus testing and the production of personal protective equipment; $20 billion to help schools reopen; more relief for small businesses; and additional aid to individuals.” However, “it differs in ways large and small, omitting a federal minimum wage increase or direct aid to states and cities,” and “would slash the direct payments to Americans, providing $1,000 instead of $1,400 and limiting them to the lowest income earners, excluding individuals who earned more than $50,000. It would also pare back federal jobless aid, which is set to lapse in March, setting weekly payments at $300 through June instead of $400 through September.” As we now know, Biden did not agree to any of this.

When all is said and done, Republicans contend that Biden plan is simply too large. Jon Greenberg refers Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., who contends that there was a trillion dollars in unspent money from previous Covid-19 relief bills that was available for additional relief and that $1.9 trillion was not justified. Jon Greenberg fact-checks this claim for Politifact (https://www.politifact.com/factchecks/2021/feb/23/steve-scalise/has-1-trillion-covid-19-relief-gone-unspent). Scalise relies on the COVID Money Tracker, as his source. This is a “project of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a group focused on reducing federal deficits. The tracker’s latest number shows that out of $4.1 trillion approved by Congress, about $3 trillion has been committed or disbursed.” However, Scalise disregards important aspects of the analysis. Greenberg writes that “in a Jan. 27 blog post, the budget group warned that figuring out how much money remains is complicated. It’s not, they wrote, as though the money is ‘sitting in budget accounts waiting to be allocated.’ Rather, “Much of it is already allocated or scheduled to be spent, and a small portion will never be spent.”

Greenberg cites a point made by Molly Reynolds, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Washington research group Brookings. She says that when federal program dollars go unspent, the programs may need to be redesigned. She adds that a given program may have been originally designed to make it too hard for the money to get to the people and businesses that needed help.”

Katie Lobosco adds some information on the issue of the alleged $1.0 trillion dollars that is said by Republicans to be available for new spending.  (https://www.cnn.com/2021/02/09/politics/congress-covid-relief-money-spent/index.html).

She points out that there is about $500 billion left from the stimulus packages from last March and April and writes: “About 80% of the money from these prior bills has been disbursed.” Continuing: “About half of what’s left is related to ongoing Medicaid spending and some long-term small business loans, known as Economic Injury Disaster Loans. The Medicaid matching payments to states will continue as long as there is a public health emergency. The disaster loans remain available to small businesses. Though they carry low interest, they weren’t as popular as the Paycheck Protection Program loans, which are forgiven if used on qualifying expenses.” There are also school funds to that have not yet been dispersed but are for assisting schools to reopen safely and to avoid layoffs. Biden and the Democrats want to spend an additional $130 billion on the schools while Republican Senators are proposing $20 billion.

In addition, “[r]oughly half of the unspent money comes from the package approved by Congressin late December, when lawmakers passed a $915 billion relief bill that provided $600 stimulus payments, extended unemployment benefits, reopened the small business loan program and various other spending.” Some of this money was not intended to be spent all at once. She refers to “estimates that another $120 billion will be spent on boosted federal unemployment and food stamps before the end of the year. The unemployment benefits are set to expire in March and a 15% increase to SNAP benefits that will continue for six months.” And”: “More than $200 billion remains for the Paycheck Protection Program, which recently reopened to small businesses for a second round of loans and is available through March. The money is going out quickly. More than 891,000 loan applications totaling $72 billion were approved by the Small Business Administration in the first few weeks.” While the vast majority of the $166 billion allocated for the direct $600 per person payments have been delivered by the Internal Revenue Service, there’s still “about $35 billion remaining, which could likely be claimed when eligible people who didn’t receive their money file their 2020 tax returns.

Concluding thoughts

The passage of the American Rescue Plan is perhaps the most comprehensive relief legislation in U.S. history – and in response to the unprecedented health and economic crises. The full economic effects of the legislation will not be ascertained for some time. However, there is much evidence to document that there are real unmet needs that the legislation addresses. It is a policy accomplishment that may well boost the political chances of Democrats in the 2022 elections. Democrats may also by then be able to take credit for ending the pandemic. However, the road to electoral success is filled with obstacles. There are two that have been discussed in this post. Unless the Democrats in the Senate find ways to overcome expected Republican filibusters, Democrats may not have other legislative victories, although they will go on trying. In the meantime, Republicans across the country are instituting measures to suppress the Democratic vote and to alter election rules in ways that enhance Republican success at the polls at the expense of Democrats. The outcome of the political battles is likely to determine whether democracy in the U.S. is strengthened or seriously diminished and whether a majority of Americans will come to have a viable way of life and opportunities or not.    

Texas Republicans, the deregulation champs, scramble to deflect responsibility for effects of winter storm

Bob Sheak, Feb 24, 2021

Introduction

In this post, the topic is the winter storm that has afflicted Texas and led to widespread power outages and suffering. I consider evidence from various sources to document that the Republican control of the state government, the deregulated and “independent” electrical power system Republicans have created, and the power outages that led to disruption of water supplies, the widespread damage to residences and businesses, and the consequent displacement of residents, shortages of food and water, and even deaths, all result largely from Republican policies. The part played by climate change is ignored.

Despite the evidence, the Republican governor, legislators, and relevant officials opportunistically and hypocritically have made attempts to deflect blame of themselves to others – or to each other. In the meantime, their claims and pride of being allegedly “independent” of federal government influence is belied by their reliance on federal assistance to help deal with the crisis and the fact that, overall, Texas is one of the states that receives more from the federal government than the state sends to Washington.

#1 – What happened?

It is also worth noting that Texas is a “red” state in which the governor and state lawmakers have kowtowed to Trump, supported his big lie that the election was rigged and stolen from him, often abided by Trump’s claims that the Covid-19 pandemic was not that serious and climate change is a hoax and other such Trumpian/Republican blather. If there is hope out of this mess, it lies with Democratic Party lawmakers, committed and transparent public agencies, activists, community organizers, social movements, scientists, investigative journalists who want radical change in the state’s power system, who take into account and respond to rising climate change, and who want to advance a progressive agenda that addresses the needs and interests of majority of Texans.

According to Renuka Rayasam’s report for Politico, “More than 4 million people in Texas still had no power a full day [Monday, Feb. 15] after historic snowfall and single-digit temperatures created a surge of demand for electricity to warm up homes unaccustomed to such extreme lows, buckling the state’s power grid and causing widespread blackouts.”  “It was,” she writes, “this energy grid that failed so catastrophically as people cranked up their heat while energy sources literally froze. The rest of the country experienced power outages too, but none as long-lasting or severe as in Texas—none that have turned into a humanitarian crisis. According to the operator of the Texas grid, the situation was so dire that the state avoided a months-long blackout by just a minute or two.” Then, Rayasam writes, “For six days, people living in the energy capital of the world have been without electricity in freezing cold temperatures. About 200,000 Texans are still without power [as of Feb. 19], but millions are now without water, too—with lowest-income households hit (https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2021/02/19/how-a-winter-storm-tested-texas-go-it-alone-attitude-470202).

Sofia Sokolove and her colleagues at The Washington Post report on Feb. 19: “Millions of people across a storm-scarred South were bracing for one last night of extreme cold Friday [Feb. 19] following a devastating week in which dozens of people died, homes and businesses sustained billions of dollars in damage and basic services such as power and water catastrophically failed” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/texas-winter-storm-recovery). By this time [Feb. 20], the power had been restarted for many Texans, and power had returned for all but about 60,000 Texans as the storm moved east (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/20/us/texas-storm-electric-bills.html).

Still, residents were faced with the remaining destruction. Sokolove, et. al., report: “Across the region, homeowners who had fled frigid, energy-starved houses or apartments were returning after the lights finally switched back on. But once there, they discovered burst pipes, flooded floors, collapsed ceilings — and no water to drink.” Thus, “In Texas, the epicenter of the disaster, more than 14 million people in 160 counties were still experiencing water-service disruptions, with impacts also being felt in Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee and beyond.”

Sokolove, et. al., refer to examples of the problem. “Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city, was under a boil-water advisory. In Austin, Texas’s capital, much of the city was without running water, and officials could not say Friday when it might return. Bottled water had been stripped from the shelves of minimarts and gas stations, and lines were wrapped around some supermarkets, which were imposing purchase limits as residents scrambled for food.

“In a sign of just how fundamental the needs are in Texas, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has sent blankets, bottled water and meals, in addition to 60 generators, to help the state power ‘critical infrastructure’ like hospitals. FEMA will also provide the state with diesel fuel ‘to ensure the continued availability of backup power,’ Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said at a briefing on Wednesday” [Feb. 17] (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/17/us/texas-winter-storm.html).

Drew Harwell, Brittney Martin, Marisa Iati and Kim Bellware report for The Washington Post that “[m]ore than 50 recent deaths have been linked to the bitterly cold weather and its aftermath, including from hypothermia, house fires and carbon-monoxide poisoning from people using cars or ovens to stay warm”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/2020/02/20/winter-storms-texas-weather-updates). They continue:

“In the Houston suburb of Sugar Land, Loan Le, 75, and her three grandchildren — ages 5, 8 and 11 — died in a house fire early Tuesday after using a fireplace to stay warm overnight while without power, city spokesman Douglas Adolph said.

“Even as temperatures warmed, the threat of ruptured pipes and dry water supplies threatened further strain. In Killeen, a fire at a fully occupied Hilton Garden Inn raged out of control after the hotel’s sprinkler system failed, officials said. No deaths were reported, and the cause of the blaze is still unknown.

“For many, the storm’s challenges are just beginning. Tabitha Charlton, 44, was playing Uno and trying to stay warm with her 7-year-old twins Tuesday when a pipe burst and covered her girls’ bedroom with soggy gray insulation.”

Harwell and his colleagues add :

Amy Goodman and Denis Moynihan report on how Cities and towns across Texas are issuing boil notices as water treatment plants go offline (https://www.democracynow.org/2021/02/18/along_star_state_global_heating_plunges).  “But,” they write, “many families can’t boil water without electricity. Stories are surfacing of people breaking apart furniture to burn for heat. “‘We are a failed state right now,” Professor Robert Bullard, known as the father of environmental justice. He said: “The impact of this storm is more than just power outages and inconveniences for those communities that historically have been impacted by energy insecurity and energy poverty.” And: “People are suffering right now and hurting with no power, no money, no water, no form of transportation to get to the grocery store to get water where there is no bottled water or food…the idea of Texas not being part of the union has really been a textbook example of how not to do it.”

Moreover, Goodman and Moynihan add:

“This is happening in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. People are flocking to crowded, indoor warming centers, risking possible exposure to the coronavirus in search of heat. Meanwhile, the already stressed vaccine distribution networks have been shut down, and vaccination centers shuttered. It is unclear how many doses of the refrigeration-dependent vaccines will have to be tossed out because of Texas’ failed independent power grid.

“Texas is also the nation’s biggest jailer, where prisoners are being especially hard hit. Lack of heat, running water, and food shortages are worsening already desperate conditions.

“Texas’ elected leaders, from Gov. Greg Abbot, U.S. Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, to Attorney General Ken Paxton, all Republicans, are also all committed climate change deniers. As the thaw comes slowly to Texas, and the heat, lights and water turn back on, Texans will have to decide, to join the global community fighting human-caused climate disruption, or to insist on going it alone, come hell or high water.”

#2 – Problems in how the Republican Party organized the Texas grid

 Ed Hirs, an energy economics lecturer at the University of Houston, considers why Texas has such a severe grid failure

(https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/02/18/texans-grid-outage-deregulation). Here’s his overview.

“Texas’s predicament stems from a decision that state lawmakers made about 20 years ago to abandon the traditional model of fully regulated electricity utilities. Still used across many areas of the nation, these electric companies — described as vertically integrated utilities — do not compete for customers and are allowed to earn a rate of return on investment. They can raise rates only with the permission of state regulators.

“The deregulation of the California electricity grid in the 1990s generated profit opportunities by commoditizing electricity and creating trading regimes presented to voters as a way to lower electricity bills. The charge to ‘deregulate’ the larger Texas grid was led by the innovative energy trading firm Enron. Gov. George W. Bush (R), his successor Rick Perry (R) and the state legislature bought into the free market narrative. The state split apart the utilities. Only the transmission companies and local distribution companies remained fully regulated by the Public Utility Commission of Texas — there’s no real need for a dozen power lines to one’s home.

“The operation of the electrical grid was consigned to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. It is a nonprofit consortium that operates the grid for about 85 percent of Texas. Understand, ERCOT has no ability to invest in generation or infrastructure. It acts only as the air traffic controller for electrons on the network. ERCOT is accountable to no one, but it reaps hundreds of millions in fees. Because it is contained within Texas, ERCOT is not subject to federal oversight.

“ERCOT created a system whereby generators, companies that own power plants, compete by bidding to provide electricity for the ‘day ahead’ and in real time during the day. It is called an ‘electricity only’ market. Think of it this way: If the players on the Washington Nationals were paid in the same fashion, only those players on the field for the game that day would earn a [prescribed] paycheck. Everyone else on the roster would be unpaid. Players would offer bids to play for the next day, each undercutting the other.

“Like the Nats in my example, the generators, to sell any of their power, often bid their power so low they don’t make a profit. Some generators, strapped for cash, began to defer maintenance. Others played an even smarter game by closing power plants or not building new capacity to serve the growing population of Texas. As demand inexorably increased, they could look forward to charging more for their electricity because there was less of it. Really, not much different than what Enron did in the California electricity market in 2000-2001. Except that market manipulation was illegal in California, but not in Texas, thanks to ERCOT. It was destined to come crashing down, and the polar vortex of 2021 was the assault that finally broke the Texas grid.  

“The blame game has some pointing to frozen wind turbines as the cause of the blackouts. But the real problem in Texas is that generators have no financial incentive to invest in their own assets and keep them ready for winter, because the less stable they are, the more money they charge for their power.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/02/18/texans-grid-outage-deregulation

#3 – Systemic changes are needed

Following from this misguided-laden history, Hirs draws a reasonable conclusion, namely: “Resolving Texas’s energy debacle requires major structural changes. An expedient solution is to create a capacity market similar to those in other states wherein generators would be compensated to keep their equipment ready. A second option is to return to a vertically integrated market that is focused on reliability such that power is available every day and the utilities earn a guaranteed return on investment for building out capacity that may only be required a few days a year when demand peaks.” The first option runs against the neoliberal ideology that prevails in the higher circles of Texas and that emphasizes maximum freedom for utility and fossil-fuel corporations. The second option conflicts with the Texas state goal of having and wanting a highly deregulated energy system that promotes competition in the electricity sector.

Robinson Meyer contends that the collapse of the Texas electrical grid occurred because the system lacks a plan and depends on unregulated market forces to provide supply of power in response to demand. He writes: “the Texas government assumed that high prices alone could guarantee grid reliability and incentivize power plants to prepare for the worst. This didn’t happen” (https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2021/02/21/what-went-wrong-texas/618104

Thus, contrary to the prevailing market-based ideology of the government, the Texas electrical power system needs more government regulation, not less. That is, if widespread outages, underinvestment in grid integrity, chaotic pricing for consumers, and devastating and costly ripple effects through the state are to be avoided. Additionally, Texas should take steps to connect the state grid to one of the larger electrical grids outside the state. This would enhance the state’s ability to address unexpected surges in demand.

And, in the best of all worlds, though unlikely in Texas’s right-wing political situation, Texas officials would acknowledge the reality of “climate change” and spend a lot more on increasing the state’s wind and solar resources than it has, while phasing out its dependence on natural gas and coal. No such changes are likely as long as Republicans dominate the Texas state government.

The New York Times editorial board echoes this view and draws two lessons from the Texas fiasco (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/19/opinion/texas-power-energy.html).

First, they agree that Texas decisionmakers must take into account and plan for climate change. The board refers to a recent article by Princeton energy expert Jesse Jenkins who “observes in a recent Times Op-Ed, we know that climate change increases the frequency of extreme heat waves, droughts, wildfires, heavy rains and coastal flooding. We also know the damage these events can cause. To this list we should now add deep freezes.”

And with that knowledge, Texas must, second, build “resilience into the power system,” one that reduces greenhouse emissions. The board cites as an example President Biden’s “lofty goal,” which is “to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by midcentury and to eliminate fossil fuel emissions from the power sector by 2035. In the simplest terms, this will mean electrifying everything in sight: a huge increase in battery-powered cars and in charging stations to serve them; a big jump in the number of homes and buildings heated by electric heat pumps instead of oil and gas; and, crucially, a grid that delivers all this electricity from clean energy sources like wind and solar.”

Now, given the present configuration of forces in Texas, there is little chance that the Republican governor or legislature will take climate change at all seriously, let alone act in ways that reflect the kind of energy plan that Biden has proposed. However, if Biden is able to advance his plan in the U.S. Congress, it has the chance of becoming national policy. And, if that should happen, then there would be possible funding incentives for Texas to move more toward renewable energy and related changes. This would become more likely if Texas Democrats would win more state-wide elections than they have.

In an article published in the Texas Climate News, Randy Lee Loftis posits that “Texas faces both a fragile electric grid, still driven mostly by fossil fuels despite renewable energy gains, and the certainty of human-induced climate disruptions caused mostly by the worldwide use of those same fossil fuels.” Any attempt to strengthen the Texas energy grid must ramp up “efforts to address climate change and, in a bigger sense, begins rethinking how we produce, use, and even imagine energy” (https://texasclimatenews.org/features/how-texas-froze-neglect-of-power-grid-and-climate-change-warnings-off-the-stage). There are changes that may eventually change the climate avoidance energy policies in Texas. Loftis points to “news at odds with Texas’ official attitudes toward climate change and fossil fuels seems to be breaking worldwide” and gives the following examples.

“Volkswagen, General Motors, and Ford have all announced, by differing degrees, the approaching end of gasoline-powered autos. President Joe Biden has vowed to tackle climate change at home, repair ailing infrastructure to make it more tough and reliable, and place climate as Abbott called Biden’s energy plans ‘a hostile attack’ on Texas and promised to sue.”  The question then is whether the political forces in Texas will change enough to remove right-wing politicians from office and elect lawmakers who understand what climate scientists are telling us and are committed to transforming the way Texans generates and uses energy.

#4 – Republican responses

One, better a devastating storm than an independent grid

As noted, most of Texas’ power generation and distribution comes from an independent electrical grid that has no connection to grids outside the state. As Rayasam puts it, Texas has “a standalone grid, and no access to power plants elsewhere [so that] Texas couldn’t draw power from other states and was forced to switch off power for whole swaths of the state to prevent permanent damage to the grid” (https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2021/02/19/how-a-winter-storm-tested-texas-go-it-alone-attitude-470202). She continues:

“Texans have long seen this independence as a point of pride. Texas’ independent grid was created a century ago in the image that Texans have of themselves: standalone, free from federal oversight and largely deregulated. But this week’s blackout has come as a rebuke to that idea—or, at least, highlighted the limits of Texas as a brash, go-it-alone state, big enough not to have to rely on the rest of America.”

But the situation is different in El Paso, where Rayasam lives. “Here, the lights were on, and that was how I learned that my new hometown, El Paso, is not just in a different time zone from the rest of Texas—it’s also on a different power grid. The winter storm hit this border town, too. But even as demand surged, there were sources to help fill the need, and the outages were relatively minor…. El Paso’s power lines are attached to the Western grid, which connects 14 states and parts of Canada and Mexico. The rest of Texas, however, is on its own grid—making it the only state that tries to manage its power independent from the rest of the United States.” Thus, when she woke up on Monday, “snow was still on the ground and the weather was still below freezing, but our heater worked, our pipes hadn’t burst, and there was no need for disaster planning.”

Two, they don’t learn from previous experiences

Rayasam reminds us that, “[a]fter a major winter storm knocked out power in Texas almost exactly a decade ago, federal regulators called on the state to fortify its grid against deep freezes. But the federal government had no authority to mandate such measures.” Pat Wood III, CEO of Dallas-based Hunt Energy Network and a former Texas and federal energy regulator, says this is typical of the Texas’ approach to federal oversight. Even though the federal intervention was ‘relatively benign,’ Texas still didn’t want to deal with it. “I just threw my hands up in the air,” he says ((https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2021/02/19/how-a-winter-storm-tested-texas-go-it-alone-attitude-470202).

Three, blame renewables

Politifact fact-checked the claim by Texas Republicans that wind power causes the blackouts. (https://www.politifact.com/article/2021/feb/18/fact-checking-texas-republicans-blackout-blame). It’s true that “Wind energy has been Texas’ fastest growing energy source over the last decade. Last year, wind supplied 23% of Texas energy demand and overtook coal as the state’s second largest resource after natural gas, which supplied 46% last year.” And it’s true that by “Sunday afternoon, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the state-wide grid, was reporting that about half of Texas’ 24,000 megawatts of installed wind capacity was frozen.”

The Texas Public Policy Foundation, a right-wing think tank, maintained: “The blackouts “never would have been an issue had our grid not been so deeply penetrated by renewable energy sources that contribute the least when you need them the most, yet are propped up by billions in taxpayer-funded subsidies every year.”  “…U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Houston, tweeted a thread that claimed to reveal ‘the truth about what happened,’ and his criticisms were along similar lines — wind energy is too feeble to withstand extreme weather yet has been over-subsidized by the federal government.” The problem, Crenshaw says, is that subsidized investment in wind “has pushed gas and nuclear out.” Then “Gov. Greg Abbott jumped on the bandwagon during a Tuesday evening Fox News appearance, where he said the failure of wind energy demonstrates how the Green New Deal would be ‘a deadly deal for America.’” Abbott said on Hannity: “‘Our wind and our solar got shut down … and that thrust Texas into this situation where it was lacking power at a statewide basis” The governor went on:  “As a result, it just shows that fossil fuels are necessary for the state of Texas as well as other states to make sure that we’re able to heat our homes in the wintertime and cool our homes in the summertime.”

These claims are contradicted by the fact that, while a growing proportion of Texas’s electricity comes from wind sources, the largest source by far is natural gas, with coal and nuclear making up some of the rest. All sources of electricity were negatively impacted by the winter storm. Politifact points out: “…the Electric Reliability Council of Texas has been reporting throughout this energy crisis — that blackouts were caused as electric plants of all energy sources ‘began tripping offline in rapid succession.’ Then, “On Tuesday [Feb 16], as blackouts dragged on for a second day, Electric Reliability Council of Texas CEO Bill Magness said that the energy deficit was mostly due to impacted gas plants.” Magness continued: “‘It appears that a lot of the generation that has gone offline today has been primarily due to issues on the natural gas system at large.” And: “From getting the gas from the wellheads, through the pipes to generators and to consumers for heating natural gas. That really seems to be a lot of the issues from the plant that we’re seeing become unavailable during the day today.’” 

PolitiFact looked at the numbers and established that on Tuesday, “45,000 megawatts were offline due to a variety of reasons. Of that amount, around 29,000 of those lost megawatts were attributable to thermal generators, or non-renewable energy sources.” The remaining 16,000 megawatts were due to installed wind resources in West Texas.” The fact-checking organization quotes said Josh Rhodes, a University of Texas research associate at the Energy Institute, who said: “A third of our thermal plants were offline. It’d be fair to say that wind has underperformed, but it’s not alone in having done that.”

The upshot: “The amount of wind energy that could have been produced from the frozen turbines was sorely needed, but it’s misleading to say that blackouts ‘never would have been an issue had our grid not been so deeply penetrated by renewable energy sources,’ as the Texas Public Policy Foundation claimed. Abbott’s comment on Hannity’s show placing blame for the outages on wind and solar energy production runs along the same lines and is equally misleading.” Politifact puts it this way: “Indeed, the largest energy deficit came from the state’s gas plants. While freezing temperatures impact wind energy by freezing up turbine blades, natural gas plants are impacted in a multitude of ways. Gas wells can freeze up. Uninsulated pipelines can cause certain gasses with heavy carbon chains to liquify. A gas, coal or nuclear plant’s water intake or outtake pipes can freeze.” 

Four, blame ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas)

Renuka Rayasam’s report for Politico is informative. Among other misleading claims, “Republican Governor Greg Abbott blamed the grid’s managers—an independent nonprofit called the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT—calling on Wednesday for the council’s leadership to resign. He and other Republican leaders here also pointed to the state’s frozen wind turbines and condemned the rise of clean energy—going as far as to target the Green New Deal, even though it’s a proposal, not federal law. (While the frozen turbines were a factor, natural gas wells, oil pipelines and coal-burning plants still dominate the Texas grid, and they froze, too.)” Rayasam “asked Abbott’s office if the governor planned to take any other action after this week [and] a representative pointed to statements Abbott already had made calling for ERCOT’s leadership to resign and declaring ERCOT reform an ‘emergency item’ in the current legislative session” (https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2021/02/19/how-a-winter-storm-tested-texas-go-it-alone-attitude-470202).

“As politicians call for investigations and committee hearings—with ERCOT as the focal point—energy experts say the council’s leaders are being used as a scapegoat. ERCOT, which runs as a nonprofit with a board of directors, is overseen by the state Legislature and the state’s Public Utility Commission, whose members the governor appoints; all three of the commission’s current members are Abbott appointees. An investigation might turn up more details, and possibly some serious failures on ERCOT’s part, but it is state executives who ultimately make the decisions about the Texas energy grid.”

Rayasam continues. “Texas took control of its grid in the 1930s after the Federal Power Act was passed to regulate interstate electricity sales. ERCOT was created in 1970 and took on more responsibility for managing the Texas grid over the following decades. The current structure of Texas’ energy system has its roots in the mid-1990s, when the state government moved to deregulate the energy market here. ERCOT at that point became the country’s first independent service operator. According to both Sullivan and Wood [energy experts], Republicans and Democrats agreed back then on restructuring the state’s power industry and breaking up utility monopolies in an effort to make the market more competitive.

 Quoting Wood again: “It didn’t get that partisan. Everybody agreed wholesale competition made sense.” A 1995 law required the state to study connecting the Texas grid to the rest of the country, but the resulting report recommended against it so the state could maintain access to cheaper power, according to Wood.

“A series of reforms over the next few legislative sessions in the late 1990s and early 2000s—the regular session lasts only 140 days every other year—focused on keeping energy costs low, especially for industrial customers, and bringing in new power companies. The reforms helped to usher in new technology, like wind and solar energy, while helping to meet demand for the state’s burgeoning population—and keeping prices low.

“ERCOT’s role was and is essentially as the intermediary, mostly acting as a broker between energy buyers and sellers. It was never tasked with deciding on the state’s overarching approach to energy policy; it just carries it out. While ERCOT does have to make sure the grid is reliable, it can’t force changes such as infrastructure upgrades.

“The trade-off that Texas lawmakers and regulators have made over the years, says Michael Webber, an energy resources professor at the University of Texas at Austin, is focusing on cost over reliability. Some states like Georgia require operators to maintain energy reserves almost double what Texas requires. This costs energy companies more money, but it also ensures that a grid is more reliable. Treating turbines, natural gas wells, coal plants and nuclear plants so that they can withstand winter weather also costs money. The state government in Texas, which has no state income tax, has avoided budgeting funds to prepare the grid for winter, knowing that customers would have faced higher bills.”

Five, avoid talking about how the Public Utility Commission of Texas has authority over ERCOT

Sofia Sokolove and her colleagues point out the Public Utility Commission of Texas has authority over ERCOT, noting that “Abbott, Texas’s governor, has consistently blamed the state’s electric grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), for a lack of preparation and has called on its leadership to resign https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/texas-winter-storm-recovery).

But, they report, ERCOT “had little control over the power suppliers and could not force them to better prepare for extreme cold.” They quote ERCOT’s chief executive, Bill Magness, who said in a video call with journalists, “We don’t own the generation units. We don’t own the transmission. It’s not really our role to do winterization.” Rather, “it is up to the Public Utility Commission of Texas — which oversees ERCOT — to mandate that suppliers better prepare for extreme cold and penalize those that choose not to do so.”

Six, Belatedly, Governor Abbott asks state legislature for funds to winterize grid

On Thursday, Feb. 18, Abbott directed the state legislature to find funding for the “winterization” of the Texas power system. Erin Douglas reports: “The North American Electric Reliability Corporation, which has some authority to regulate power generators in the U.S., is also developing mandatory standards for “winterizing” energy infrastructure, a spokesperson said….During a Friday press conference, Bill Magness, president and CEO of ERCOT, called Abbott’s emergency legislative item to winterize power plants ‘a good idea,’ and said ERCOT would implement any changes the Legislature directed them to make” https://www.kxxv.com/hometown/texas/gov-greg-abbott-wants-power-companies-to-winterize-texas-track-record-wont-make-that-easy). It will up to the Republican-dominated state legislature to decide on whether to subsidize any large-scale weatherization project, a kind of corporate welfare and who will pay for it.

The power companies are unlikely to pay for weatherization

Douglas cites Jim Krane, an energy fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute, [who] has an idea on where to begin: “‘The natural gas transmission system would be my first choice as a place to look,’ he said, noting that the majority of the state’s grid in the winter relies on the resource.” The companies that produce and distribute natural gas are “not built for the low temperatures,” according to Michael Webber, an energy resources professor at the University of Texas at Austin. Nonetheless, Webber thinks they can be winterized along with other parts of the state’s energy system, but it needs to be “flexible – temporarily enclosed in a structure to keep heat in during the winter and removed to keep the plant cool during the summer.” Webber “acknowledges it will come at a cost, but, he said, ‘it means you can operate when times are tough.’” That’s the rub. The natural gas companies are organized to maximize profits and are little inclined to pay for any winterization of their facilities and pipelines out of their own budgets. Douglas refers to experts who says that, for any upgrade or retrofitting, “whether natural gas, wind, coal, or nuclear — winterization is going to be expensive due to the lack of investment the state’s generators and producers of energy have made into preparing for a storm like this in the past.”

Seven, be unabashedly hypocritical – and welcome federal aid

Another point from Rayasam’s richly documented article captures the hypocrisy of Texas Republican leaders. She writes: “Even at the height of the crisis this week, Rick Perry said Texans would rather go without power for days than deal with federal energy regulations. Never mind that Texas readily accepts federal help when disaster strikes: So far this week, Abbott has made at least two official requests to the White House for federal aid.” (https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2021/02/19/how-a-winter-storm-tested-texas-go-it-alone-attitude-470202).

By the way, let it be noted that Texas is one of the states, one of the many “red” states, that gets back more money from the federal government than they transfer to Washington (https://theconversation.com/blue-state-bailouts-some-states-like-new-york-send-billions-more-to-federal-government-than-they-get-back-137950). According to this source relying on data for 2018, Texas got $13.51 billion back from the federal government that year than the state sent to it.

#5 – Who will pay under the present political regime in Texas?

Individual residents

Unless Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas’ lawmakers act, individuals in the state who did not lose electricity during the winter storm are face with extraordinarily high utility bills. Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio and her colleagues at The New York Times document this situation (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/20/us/texas-storm-electric-bills.html). Here is an example the reporters highlight.

“‘My savings is gone,’ said Scott Willoughby, a 63-year-old Army veteran who lives on Social Security payments in a Dallas suburb. He said he had nearly emptied his savings account so that he would be able to pay the $16,752 electric bill charged to his credit card — 70 times what he usually pays for all of his utilities combined. ‘There’s nothing I can do about it, but it’s broken me.’

Mr. Willoughby is not alone. He is “among scores of Texans who have reported skyrocketing electric bills as the price of keeping lights on and refrigerators humming shot upward. For customers whose electricity prices are not fixed and are instead tied to the fluctuating wholesale price, the spikes have been astronomical.”

The underlying problem is systemic, namely that residents are asked to choose their power supplier in an unregulated market from among “about 220 retailers in an entirely market-driven system” and are apt to be confused about the terms of a given contract. The reporters elucidate this point: “Under some of the plans, when demand increases, prices rise. The goal, architects of the system say, is to balance the market by encouraging consumers to reduce their usage and power suppliers to create more electricity.” But that’s a theoretical supposition. When the unanticipated winter storm struck Texas, “the state’s Public Utilities Commission ordered that the price cap be raised to its maximum limit of $9 per kilowatt-hour, easily pushing many customers’ daily electric costs above $100. And in some cases, like Mr. Willoughby’s, bills rose by more than 50 times the normal cost.”

They give the example of the customers of Griddy, “a small company in Houston that provides electricity at wholesale prices, which can quickly change based on supply and demand.” Here’s how it works when prices for electricity go up. “The company passes the wholesale price directly to customers, charging an additional $9.99 monthly fee. Much of the time, the rate is considered affordable. But the model can be risky: Last week, foreseeing a huge jump in wholesale prices, the company encouraged all of its customers — about 29,000 people — to switch to another provider when the storm arrived. But many were unable to do so.” Customers often did have enough time during this crisis to arrange for a switch in their electricity provider. Here’s one example.

“Katrina Tanner, a Griddy customer who lives in Nevada, Texas, said she had been charged $6,200 already this month, more than five times what she paid in all of 2020. She began using Griddy at a friend’s suggestion a couple of years ago and was pleased at the time with how simple it was to sign up.

“As the storm rolled through during the past week, however, she kept opening the company’s app on her phone and seeing her bill ‘just rising, rising, rising,’ Ms. Tanner said. Griddy was able to take the money she owed directly from her bank account, and she now has just $200 left. She suspects that she was only able to keep that much because her bank stopped Griddy from taking more.

The natural gas companies won’t pay

Sharon Zhang reports on how billionaire Dallas Cowboys owner and oil and natural gas man Jerry Jones is cashing in on the Texas blackout crisis (https://truthout.org/articles/billionaire-dollars-cowboys-owner-and-oil-man-cashes-in-on-texas-blackout-crisis). Jones owns Comstock Resources, Inc., a natural gas company. As a result of the winter storm, Zhang writes: “[d]emand for what little natural gas the state can access has soared amid the crisis as millions have gone without power this week, and consequently, wholesale gas prices have gone up nearly 300-fold. This week, some residents in Texas reported getting hit with massive electricity bills — one man’s bill shot up to over $8,000 in the course of two days — while they navigate power outages, food shortages and boil-water advisories.”

But things were a lot different for Jones and other natural gas owners. In a call to investors, Jones told them: “Obviously, this week is like hitting the jackpot with some of these incredible prices…. Frankly, we were able to sell at super premium prices for a material amount of production.” Zhang adds: “The company could be selling their product at anywhere from six to 74 times what they were selling for on average last quarter, according to figures reported by NPR, the CFO (corporate financial officer] said on the call. Meanwhile, investors were evidently pleased with the news, as the company’s stock shot up about 12 percent in the days surrounding February 17, the day of the call.”

Regressive tax system – the rich pay less

Jim Probasco documents this point (https://www.investopedia.com/financial-edge/0210/7-states-with-no-income-tax.aspx). He writes: “As of 2021, seven states — Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming — levy no state income tax.” In overall taxes, Texas ranks the 19th lowest, with most of the state taxes come from sales and excise taxes to pay the bills. At the same time, property taxes in Texas are higher than in most states. The result is Texas is one of the most income unequal states and this is reflected in how relatively little on the state spends on education (sixth lowest out of 17 southern states), and “receiving a D grade for its school funding distribution in 2015.” Probasco adds: “In 2017, the American Society of Civil Engineers awarded it a marginally higher grade of C- for its infrastructure.32 Texas spent $6,998 per capita on healthcare in 2014, the seventh-lowest amount in the U.S.12” The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities also documents how income inequality has risen in Texas (https://www.cbpp.org/sites/default/files/atoms/files/Texas.pdf).

With respect to the current winter-storm crisis, this suggests that Texas will spend little to assist those who have been affected by the crisis.

Insurance companies

“With a long recovery ahead, the focus was rapidly shifting to who would pay. The Insurance Council of Texas, an organization that represents the state’s home, auto, renters and business insurance agents, said the storm would be the “largest insurance claim event in [Texas] history,” with hundreds of thousands of claims expected.

“We are used to our storms in Texas with tornadoes, hurricanes and hail,” said Camille Garcia, communications director for the council. “But those hit smaller areas. This winter event reached every part of Texas.”Sokolove and her colleagues report:

“The exact scale of the damage was still becoming clear on Friday. Karen Clark, co-founder and chief executive of Karen Clark and Company, a catastrophe modeling firm, said the bout of winter weather could cost $18 billion in insured losses, with the total economic damage likely to be higher. The damage was spread across 20 states, though most was in Texas” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/texas-winter-storm-recovery).

The Federal government (taxpayers) pay, despite the Republicans’ much lauded desire for “independence”

Ella Nilsen reports for VOX on President Joe Biden’s approval of a major disaster declaration for Texas (https://www.voc.com/2021/02/19/22291432/biden-major-disaster-declaration-texas-fema-storm). Nilsen points out that a “federal emergency declaration is helpful to states, but the total amount of federal assistance it brings is capped at $5 million.” She adds: “The president signing a major emergency declaration expands the type of assistance the federal government can provide to states suffering through the effects of a natural disaster. It authorizes assistance both to individuals impacted, and to state and local governments for emergency work and repairing damaged facilities. It also unlocks hazard mitigation assistance, getting additional funding to states, municipalities, and nonprofits working to save the lives and property of impacted residents.”

There is also additional disaster relief money in the U.S. House Democrats Covid-19 relief bill, calling for $50 billion for FEMA. Nilsen reports: “Speaking to reporters on Thursday, one White House official noted that due to the Covid-19 pandemic, FEMA teams have already been embedded with state emergency officials in Texas and other states.” And: “‘There’s a great deal of familiarity among the people involved in needing to work these issues now because they’ve been working together quite a while on Covid response,’ Homeland Security adviser Liz Sherwood-Randall told reporters on Thursday, adding that existing coordination has been helpful during this natural disaster.” Indeed: “As of Thursday, Sherwood-Randall said, FEMA had provided 60 power generators and additional fuel support to facilities like hospitals, nursing homes, and water treatment plants. The federal agency is also providing 60,000 wool and cotton blankets, 225,000 meals, and other supplies after they were requested by Abbott, she said.”

Concluding thoughts

The winter storm was more destructive than it needed to have been. The responsibility for the extensive damage lies in the hands of Texas lawmakers who have created an unregulated electrical system based on a standalone power grid, who are devoted to keeping the system dependent on fossil fuels (along with nuclear power), and who deny the steadily increasing impacts of climate change. It’s worth repeating what I wrote in the Introduction: If there is hope out of this mess, it lies with Democratic Party lawmakers, committed and transparent public agencies, activists, community organizers, social movements, scientists, investigative journalists who want radical change in the state’s power system, who take into account and respond to rising climate change, and who want to advance a progressive agenda that addresses the needs and interests of majority of Texans.

Bottom of Form

The right-wing assault on American democracy heats up

Bob Sheak, February 6, 2021

Does democracy in the U.S. have a future? Biden, his administration, and Democrats presently represent the best, hopefully effective, prospect for salvaging democracy from minority rule by a Republican Party dominated by Trump. But the Biden administration, Democrats of all stripes, and those who oppose what Trump and the Republican Party stand for will face a massive Trump base who believe the election was stolen from their leader, obstruction from Republicans in the Congress, and large swaths of the rich and powerful who will use their vast resources to oppose the tax cuts, regulatory reforms, and other policies that will be advanced by the Biden administration. This post compiles evidence on how these forces pose a more dire threat to American democracy than in many generations, perhaps since the Civil War.

Trump’s populist base

What they like about Trump

Trump has served to unify disparate right-wing forces into an unquestioning populist base of support for him. This populous base includes advocates of unfounded and conspiratorial views of society, some committed to the use of violent methods to achieve their goals, along with overlapping special interest groups devoted to maximum gun rights, closed borders, Christian nationalism, white supremacy, those who question the reality of the pandemic refuse to wear masks and are angered by the lockdowns, and those opposed to covid-19 vaccines. This is a population that generally takes Trump’s word as definitive, while rejecting the views and evidence from scientists, experts, the “dark state” of government civil servants, and the “fake news.” Emotions trump evidence. Indeed, some see Trump as chosen by God. They love his admonitions invoking “law and order” and his disparaging statements on the “black lives matter” movement. The nationalistic “America First” rhetoric of Trump leads them to think that his policies are bringing back American businesses from abroad or keeping such businesses from outsourcing their businesses to other countries. It also likely makes them feel patriotic, the true and only patriots. In line with such sentiments, many of them accept the idea that the Democrats are “radical socialists” and electing them will take the country down a path toward some sort of totalitarian regime where all individual “freedoms” are lost. Many of Trump’s base are motivated less by economic distress than by ideological commitments and special interests. Robert A. Pape, political-science professor at the University of Chicago and Keven Ruby, Senior research associate of the Chicago Project on Security and Threats, find that “a closer look at the people suspected of taking part in the Capitol riot suggests a different and potentially far more dangerous problem: a new kind of violent mass movement in which more ‘normal’ Trump supporters—middle-class and, in many cases, middle-aged people without obvious ties to the far right—joined with extremists in an attempt to overturn a presidential election” (https://theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/02/the-capitol-rioters-arent-like-other-extremists/617895).

 Trump has appointed conservative judges to the federal and supreme courts. He’s won the support of white evangelicals by picking Mike Pence as his vice-president, by de-funding of Planned Parenthood, meetings with evangelical leaders, and by his judicial selections. His anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies have been greeted with enthusiastic responses, though not much of his touted 2,000 mile “wall” has been built. Innumerable asylum seekers have been kept out of the country and children have been separated from their families. His statements that the Covid-19 pandemic is overblown or a hoax and that there is no need for “lockdowns” have been accepted and have fostered an anti-mask movement, spurred the anti-vaccine movement, and confirmed their fears of a repressive state. Trump’s supporters got and imbibed a lot more. They got his support of the “proud boys,” Anon, and other extremist groups. They got his contradictory positions on the pandemic, often saying that it was not such a problem, there is no need to wear masks, it will go away by itself, and offering hairbrained solutions. They got the lack of a national plan and coordination for combating Covid-19. They got his racism and sexism. They got a fossil-fuel energy policy that encouraged fuel inefficiencies, pollution, and the steady advance of global warming.

As the growing body of evidence of the attack on the Capitol building on January 6 indicates, there were thousands of Trump followers eager to come to Washington, some ready to break the law, commit violent and lethal acts against police and other law enforcers, threaten elected lawmakers with death. Their goal was to stop Congress from finalizing Biden’s presidential victory, and somehow making it possible for Trump to eventually be declared the president for his second term. Such a presidency would have been unrepresentative of the majority of Americans and authoritarian in its foundation. There was a religious overlay to it all. Elizabeth Dias and Ruth Graham report, document this point https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/11/us/how-white-evangelical-christians-fused-with-trump-extremism.html).  

“Before self-proclaimed members of the far-right group the Proud Boys marched toward the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, they stopped to kneel in the street and prayed in the name of Jesus.

“The group, whose participants have espoused misogynistic and anti-immigrant views, prayed for God to bring ‘reformation and revival.’ They gave thanks for ‘the wonderful nation we’ve all been blessed to be in.’ They asked God for the restoration of their ‘value systems,’ and for the ‘courage and strength to both represent you and represent our culture well.’ And they invoked the divine protection for what was to come.

“Then they rose. Their leader declared into a bullhorn that the media must ‘get the hell out of my way.’ And then they moved toward the Capitol.

“The presence of Christian rituals, symbols and language was unmistakable on Wednesday [January 6] in Washington. There was a mock campaign banner, ‘Jesus 2020,’ in blue and red; an ‘Armor of God’ patch on a man’s fatigues; a white cross declaring ‘Trump won’ in all capitals. All of this was interspersed with allusions to QAnon conspiracy theories, Confederate flags and anti-Semitic T-shirts.

“The blend of cultural references, and the people who brought them, made clear a phenomenon that has been brewing for years now: that the most extreme corners of support for Mr. Trump have become inextricable from some parts of white evangelical power in America. Rather than completely separate strands of support, these groups have become increasingly blended together” (

Thomas B. Edsall also highlights the influence of Christian nationalism in Trump’s base as documented by experts who study it (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/28/opinion/christian-nationalists-capitol-attack.html). He writes: “It’s impossible to understand the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol without addressing the movement that has come to be known as Christian nationalism.” For example, among many references, he quotes the authors of two recent books on the subject..

Andrew L. Whitehead and Samuel L. Perry, professors of sociology at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and the University of Oklahoma, describe Christian Nationalism in their book “Taking America Back for God”:

It includes assumptions of nativism, white supremacy, patriarchy and heteronormativity, along with divine sanction for authoritarian control and militarism. It is as ethnic and political as it is religious. Understood in this light, Christian nationalism contends that America has been and should always be distinctively ‘Christian’ from top to bottom — in its self-identity, interpretations of its own history, sacred symbols, cherished values and public policies — and it aims to keep it this way.

The two authors “calculate that roughly 20 percent of adult Americans qualify, in Perry’s words, as “true believers in Christian nationalism.” They estimate that 36 percent of Republican voters qualify as Christian nationalists. In 2016, the turnout rate among these voters was an exceptionally high 87 percent. Whitehead wrote that ‘about 70 percent of those we identify as Christian nationalists are white.’”

Edsall also quotes Katherine Stewart, the author of the recent book titled “The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism,” who comments on Christian Nationalism as follows.

It is a political movement, and its ultimate goal is power. It does not seek to add another voice to America’s pluralistic democracy, but to replace our foundational democratic principles and institutions with a state grounded on a particular version of Christianity, answering to what some adherents call a ‘biblical worldview’ that also happens to serve the interests of its plutocratic funders and allied political leaders.”

Moreover, Edsall points out that “much of the focus of coverage of the attack on the halls of the House and Senate was on the violence, [and] the religious dimension went largely unnoted. Edsall asked Perry about the role of the religious right in the capitol riot and he replied by email: “The Capitol insurrection was as Christian nationalist as it gets,” adding:

“Obviously the best evidence would be the use of sacred symbols during the insurrection such as the cross, Christian flag, Jesus saves sign, etc. But also the language of the prayers offered by the insurrectionists both outside and within the Capitol indicates the views of white Americans who obviously thought Jesus not only wanted them to violently storm the Capitol in order to take it back from the socialists, globalists, etc., but also believed God empowered their efforts, giving them victory.

Perry finds the evidence clearly “reflects a mind-set that clearly merges national power and divine authority, believing God demands American leadership be wrested from godless usurpers and entrusted to true patriots who must be willing to shed blood (their own and others’) for God and country. Christian nationalism favors authoritarian control and what I call ‘good-guy violence’ for the sake of maintaining a certain social order.”

What it is that Trump’s populist base ignores, dismisses, or rejects

If little else, they got his thousands of tweets, his performances at rallies, and appearances on Fox News – all laden with over 30,573 lies and misleading claims as tabulated by Glenn Kessler at The Washington Post (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/how-fact-checker-tracked-trump-claims). Wikipedia provides a concise summary:

During his term as President of the United StatesDonald Trump made tens of thousands of false or misleading claims; one report gave the number as 30,573.[1][4][5][6] Commentators and fact-checkers have described this as ‘unprecedented’ in American politics,[7][8][9][10] and the consistency of these falsehoods became a distinctive part of both his business and political identity.[11] Trump is known to have made controversial statements and subsequently denied having done so,[12][13] and by June 2019, many news organizations had started describing some of his falsehoods as lies,[14] which are false statements that the speaker knows are false. The Washington Post said his frequent repetition of false claims amounts to a campaign based on disinformation.[15] According to writer and journalist Nancy LeTourneau, the debasing of veracity is a tactic.[16]

“As part of attempts to overturn the 2020 United States presidential election, Trump and his allies repeatedly and falsely claimed there had been massive election fraud and that Trump had really won the election.[6] Their effort was characterized by some as an implementation of ‘the big lie’”[17] (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Veracity_of_statements_by_Donald_Trump).

What else did they get from Trump? They got tax cuts benefiting mostly the rich and corporations. They got wholesale deregulation and hollowing out of government agencies and the loss of environmental, occupation, consumer, and other protections. They got the bashing and an almost elimination of the Affordable Care Act, formally known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, without a replacement. They got his general opposition to unions and to increases in the minimum wage, along with his readiness to at least partially privatize Social Security. Yes, he signed an initial and large COVID-19-relief bill and gave a one-time boost to farmers. But they also got state and local government that were strapped for funds under pandemic conditions and the erosion of public services. In Foreign policy, they saw Trump’s American First policy advance friendly ties with the authoritarian regimes, undermine relations with allies in Europe, withdraw from nuclear-weapons treaties with Russia and Iran, break records in military spending, and sideline diplomacy as a principal tool in international relations.

The ever-right-wing tilt of the corporate community

The U.S. economic system revolves around the power of mega-corporations, billionaires, oligopolistic or monopolistic arrangements in most sectors of the economy, corporate boards that are independent of outside influence and that are interlocked with the representatives of other corporation and especially big banks. The top corporate executives (sometimes called oligarchs or corporate elites) make their decisions based on the interests of shareholders, including the executives themselves. Every sector has a trade association that reflects the interests of the mega corporations. The corporations fund think tanks, political action committees, political ads favorable to selected candidates, faux grassroots groups, and armies of lobbyists, who have ready access to lawmakers and who even help to write and edit legislation. Given their control over vast assets, the corporate oligarchs also have the ability to influence the economy through their investment decisions.

Trump and the Republican Party have advanced a neoliberal economic agenda the origins of which can be traced back to at least the Reagan administration of the 1980s. It is an agenda that appeals to much of the business and corporate sectors, including policies favoring tax cuts, deregulation, anti-unionism, lucrative government contracts for weapons producers, the avoidance of negotiated prescription drug prices, the continuing prioritization of fossil fuels, privatization of public services that can yield a profit, subsidies for corporations while favoring reductions in programs for the poor and middle-income populations, and little concern for equity in the supply and delivery of government programs and services. Democrats have often bought into some of this neoliberal ideology and practice. But the Republican Party has long been the principal beneficiary of corporate largess.

There was news that some corporations were abandoning Trump and the Republicans after the lawless mob, incited by Trump, stormed the Capitol building, ransacked it, terrorized, injured and killed police, searched for Democratic lawmakers to harm, and called for Trump to be the president, despite the overwhelming evidence he had lost the election fairly. In the aftermath, Robert Reich, prolific author and Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, reports that “dozens of giant corporations have said they will not donate to the 147 members of Congress who objected to the certification of Biden electors on the basis of Trump’s lies about widespread fraud, which rules out most Republicans on the Hill” (https://www.newsweek.com/ceos-democracy-biden-trump-1564286). For example, according to Reich, “After locking down Trump’s account, social media giants like Twitter and Facebook are policing against instigators of violence and hate, which hobbles Republican lawmakers trying to appeal to Trump voters.” Reich continues: “As a result of moves like these, CEOs are being hailed – and hailing themselves — as guardians of democracy. The New York Times praises business leaders for seeking ‘stability and national unity.’ Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta Airlines, says ‘our voice is seen as more important than ever.’ A recent study by Edelman finds the public now trusts business more than nonprofit organizations, the government or the media.”

Reich finds all this to be hogwash, writing: “For years, big corporations have been assaulting democracy with big money, drowning out the voices and needs of ordinary Americans and fueling much of the anger and cynicism that opened the door to Trump in the first place.” He refers to a study by political scientists, Princeton professor Martin Gilens and Northwestern’s Benjamin Page, which “concluded that the preferences of the average American ‘have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically nonsignificant impact upon public policy.’ And: “Instead, lawmakers respond almost exclusively to the moneyed interests—those with the most lobbying prowess and deepest pockets to bankroll campaigns.” He gives the following example: “The capture of government by big business over the last several decades has infuriated average Americans whose paychecks have gone nowhere even as the stock market has soared.” In Reich’s view, it was such economic losses and despair that fueled the rise of populist movements on the right and the left after “the 2008 financial crisis when Wall Street got bailed out and no major bank executive went to jail, although millions of ordinary people lost their jobs, savings and homes.”

Reich also has critical statements about the hypocrisy of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg who “shut Trump’s Facebook account,” declaring “you can’t have a functioning democracy without a peaceful transition of power,” but who has “amplified Trump’s lies for years.” Twitter’s CEO, Jack Dorsey closed down Trump’s account, but only “after Democrats secured the presidency and control of the Senate.”

Reich’s final words are telling.

“If the corporate CEOs are really committed to democracy, they “would permanently cease corporate donations to all candidates, close their PACs, stop giving to secretive ‘dark money’ groups, and discourage donations by their executives.

“They’d stop placing ads in media that have weaponized disinformation – including Fox News, Infowars, Newsmax and websites affiliated with right-wing pundits. Social media giants would start acting like publishers and take responsibility for what they promulgate.

“If corporate America were serious about democracy it would throw its weight behind the “For the People Act,” the first bills of the new Congress, offering public financing of elections among other reforms.

“Don’t hold your breath.

“Joe Biden intends to raise corporate taxes, increase the minimum wage, break up Big Tech, and strengthen labor unions. The fourth branch is [corporations are] already amassing a war chest for the fight.”

The Republican Party stays ensconced in the Trump orbit

Jim Rutenberg and a team of reporters at The New York Times compiled a detailed account of what Trump and his allies did in the 77 days between the election of Joe Biden and the inauguration of the new president to foment the lie that the election was stolen from Trump and that Trump, not Biden, should be the president (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/31/us/trump-election-lie.html). Their report is based on “interviews with central players, and documents including previously unreported emails, videos and social media posts scattered across the web.” They write: “Hours after the United States voted, the president declared the election a fraud — a lie that unleashed a movement that would shatter democratic norms and upend the peaceful transfer of power.” Furthermore, they write: “In coming days, a presidential transition like no other will be dissected when he stands trial in the Senate on an impeachment charge of “incitement of insurrection.” Yet his lie of an election stolen by corrupt and evil forces lives on in a divided America.” The evidence documents the failed legal efforts by Trump lawyers to challenge the electoral votes in swing states, but how many in the Republican Party and the majority of Trump’s supporters went along with the claim, even as the electoral votes were being certified in state after state and Trump’s lawyers were losing 60 court cases in failed attempts to challenge the election results. But there were always those around Trump who reinforced his increasingly bizarre ideas that he would have won the election, if it had not been for fraudulent mailed-in ballots, manipulated voting machines, and other baseless claims.

Republicans in Congress vote against the certified Electoral College election results

The last-ditch effort to reverse the state certified electoral college votes that gave Biden the election by a margin of 306 to 232 was planned for January 6, the date when a joint session of the U.S. Congress counted the certified votes of the 50 states and Washington, D.C. Except for the inauguration of the new president scheduled for January 20, the counting of the electoral votes by the U.S. Congress was the last time members of Congress could offer objections to the votes from a state’s certified results. As this process was underway, Trump-supportive legislators raised objections to the electoral vote in Arizona. At the same time, thousands of Trump supporters left a rally organized by Trump and his allies a walked down to the Capitol, and violently invaded an under-secured Capitol building with the purpose of stopping the count through disruption and intimidation to force the Congress to give the “stolen” election back to Trump.

Republicans in Congress and across the country were then faced with whether Trump should be held accountable or not. In the Congress, Democrats revolved to impeach Trump for inciting the riot/insurrection, while most Republicans opposed impeachment based on their controversial interpretation of the U.S. Constitution that impeachment only applies to a sitting president or that Trump had a First Amendment right to express his beliefs regardless of their merit or consequences. They came to avoid the facts of the insurrection and whether Trump had incited it and, by and large, opposed the Democrats decision to impeach Trump.

Republicans in Congress oppose the impeachment of Trump

The impeachment resolution passed along party lines in the U.S. House, with all 222 Democrats voting for impeachment and 197 Republicans voting against it, along with 10 Republicans voting for it, and 4 not voting (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/01/13/us/politics/trump-second-impeachment-vote.html). The Resolution H.Res.24 charges Trump for “inciting violence against the Government of the United States” (https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-resolution/24/text). The Resolution continues:

“On January 6, 2021, pursuant to the 12th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, the Vice President of the United States, the House of Representatives, and the Senate met at the United States Capitol for a Joint Session of Congress to count the votes of the Electoral College. In the months preceding the Joint Session, President Trump repeatedly issued false statements asserting that the Presidential election results were the product of widespread fraud and should not be accepted by the American people or certified by State or Federal officials. Shortly before the Joint Session commenced, President Trump, addressed a crowd at the Ellipse in Washington, DC. There, he reiterated false claims that “we won this election, and we won it by a landslide”. He also willfully made statements that, in context, encouraged—and foreseeably resulted in—lawless action at the Capitol, such as: “if you don’t fight like hell you’re not going to have a country anymore”. Thus incited by President Trump, members of the crowd he had addressed, in an attempt to, among other objectives, interfere with the Joint Session’s solemn constitutional duty to certify the results of the 2020 Presidential election, unlawfully breached and vandalized the Capitol, injured and killed law enforcement personnel, menaced Members of Congress, the Vice President, and Congressional personnel, and engaged in other violent, deadly, destructive, and seditious acts.

“President Trump’s conduct on January 6, 2021, followed his prior efforts to subvert and obstruct the certification of the results of the 2020 Presidential election. Those prior efforts included a phone call on January 2, 2021, during which President Trump urged the secretary of state of Georgia, Brad Raffensperger, to “find” enough votes to overturn the Georgia Presidential election results and threatened Secretary Raffensperger if he failed to do so.”

Republicans ignore the evidence of Trump’s complicity in the riot/insurrection

What is the evidence? There is a detailed 80-page account of the riot/insurrection in the House impeachment brief titled “Trial Memorandum of the United States House of Representatives in the Impeachment Trial of President Donald J. Trump” that was carried by House manager to the U.S. Senate on January 25 at: https://D://Democrats%202021/house_trial_brief_final.pdf. Another useful source was authored by Jim Rutenberg and his colleagues in an article for The New York Times, “77 days Trump Campaign to Subvert the Election” (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/31/us/trump-election-lie.html). And yet another rich source, with 492 references, is Wikipedia’s account, “2021 Storming of the United States Capitol” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2021_storming_of_the_United_States_Capitol.) Despite the evidence, most Republicans in the U.S. Congress and across the country refuse to consider it or consider it to be the work of some shadowy leftist force.

Wikipedia’s analysis of riot/insurrection incited by Trump

“The storming of the United States Capitol was a riot and violent attack against the 117th United States Congress at the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021. Part of wider protests, it was carried out by a mob of supporters of Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States, in a failed attempt to overturn his defeat in the 2020 presidential election.[2] The Capitol was placed under lockdown while lawmakers were evacuated. Five people died from the event, while dozens more were injured.[36]

“Called to action by Trump,[37] thousands[38] of his supporters gathered in Washington, D.C., on January 5 and 6 in support of his false claims that the 2020 election had been “stolen” from him,[39][40] and to demand that Vice President Mike Pence and Congress reject Joe Biden‘s victory.[41] On the morning of January 6, at a “Save America” rally on the Ellipse, Trump repeated false claims of election irregularities[42] and urged the crowd to “fight like hell”.[43]:01:11:44 At the president’s encouragement,[44] thousands of the protesters then walked to the Capitol, where a joint session of Congress was beginning the Electoral College vote count to formalize Biden’s victory.

“Many of the crowd at the Capitol, some of whom had gathered earlier, breached police perimeters and stormed the building.[45][46] These rioters occupiedvandalized, and looted[47] parts of the building for several hours.[48] Many became violent, assaulting Capitol Police officers and reporters, erecting a gallows on the Capitol grounds, and attempting to locate lawmakers to take hostage and harm. They chanted “Hang Mike Pence”,[49] blaming him for not rejecting the Electoral College votes, although he lacked the constitutional authority to do so.[50] The rioters targeted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D–CA),[51][52] vandalizing and looting[53] her offices, as well as those of other members of Congress.[54]

“Upon security being breached, Capitol Police evacuated the Senate and House of Representatives chambers. Several buildings in the Capitol complex were evacuated, and all were locked down.[55] Rioters occupied and ransacked the empty Senate chamber while federal law enforcement officers drew handguns to defend the evacuated House floor.[56][57] Improvised explosive devices were found near the Capitol grounds, as well as at offices of the Democratic National Committee, the Republican National Committee, and in a nearby vehicle.[58][59]

“Trump initially resisted sending the D.C. National Guard to quell the mob.[60] In a Twitter video, he called the rioters “very special” and told them to “go home in peace” while repeating his false election claims.[61][62] The Capitol was cleared of rioters by mid-evening,[63] and the counting of the electoral votes resumed and was completed in the early morning hours. Pence declared President-elect Biden and Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris victors and affirmed that they would assume office on January 20. Pressured by his administration, the threat of removal, and numerous resignations, Trump later committed to an orderly transition of power in a televised statement.[64][65]

“The assault on the Capitol was widely condemned by political leaders and organizations in the United States and internationally. Mitch McConnell (R–KY), Senate Minority Leader, called the storming of the Capitol a “failed insurrection”[66] and said that the Senate “will not bow to lawlessness or intimidation”.[67] Several social media and technology companies suspended or banned Trump’s accounts from their platforms,[68][69] and many business organizations cut ties with him. A week after the riot, the House of Representatives impeached Trump for incitement of insurrection, making him the only U.S. president to have been impeached twice.[70]

“Opinion polls showed that a large majority of Americans disapproved of the storming of the Capitol and of Trump’s actions leading up to and following it, although some Republicans supported the attack or at least did not blame Trump for it.[71] As part of investigations into the attack, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) opened more than 400 subject case files and more than 500 grand jury subpoenas and search warrants were issued.[72] More than 179 people were arrested and charged with crimes.[35] Dozens of people present at the riot were later found to be listed in the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Database, most as suspected white supremacists.[73] Members of the Oath Keepers anti-government paramilitary group were indicted on conspiracy charges for allegedly staging a planned mission in the Capitol.[74][75]

Republicans continue to find its politically expedient to rally around Trump

Paul Krugman provides a succinct analysis of the Republican responses in an article titled “The G.O.P. Is in a Doom Loop of Bizarro” (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/28/opinion/republican-lies.html). Krugman argues that Trump will continue be the dominating force in the Republican party. He writes: “On Tuesday Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, who has said that Donald Trump’s role in fomenting the insurrection was impeachable, voted for a measure that would have declared a Trump trial unconstitutional because he’s no longer in office. (Most constitutional scholars disagree.)” And: “On Thursday Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader — who still hasn’t conceded that Joe Biden legitimately won the presidency, but did declare that Trump ‘bears responsibility’ for the attack on Congress — visited Mar-a-Lago, presumably to make amends.”

At the state level, Republicans were also singing their support of Trump or his policies.. “The Arizona state party censured the Republican governor for the sin of belatedly trying to contain the coronavirus. The Texas G.O.P. has adopted the slogan “We are the storm,” which is associated with QAnon, although the party denies it intended any link. Oregon Republicans have endorsed the completely baseless claim, contradicted by the rioters themselves, that the attack on the Capitol was a left-wing false flag operation.”

If anything, their commitments to Trump are solidifying. Krugman puts it this way: “As hard-liners gain power within a group, they drive out moderates; what remains of the group is even more extreme, which drives out even more moderates; and so on. A party starts out complaining that taxes are too high; after a while it begins claiming that climate change is a giant hoax; it ends up believing that all Democrats are Satanist pedophiles.” This describes the process under which the Republican Party has trended. Krugman points out: “This process of radicalization [extremism] began long before Donald Trump; it goes back at least to Newt Gingrich’s takeover of Congress in 1994. But Trump’s reign of corruption and lies, followed by his refusal to concede and his attempt to overturn the election results, brought it to a head. And the cowardice of the Republican establishment has sealed the deal. One of America’s two major political parties has parted ways with facts, logic and democracy, and it’s not coming back.” The power of the Party lies in their ability to rig elections so as to limit the Democratic vote and, perversely, to win the support of Trump’s loyal base.

House Republicans stand by Marjorie Taylor Greene

Catie Edmondson reports that on February 4, House Democrats “pressed past Republicans’ objections to remove the Georgia freshman from her two committee posts in a vote without precedent in the modern Congress (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/04/us/politics/marjorie-taylor-greene.html). All 219 democrats, joined by 11 Republicans, voted for Greene’s removal from the Education and Budget Committees and, in effect, from all committees, while 199 Republicans voted against the Democratic initiative. As widely covered, Greene has made outlandish and violence supportive statements in recent years and since she was elected in November to represent the very Republican 14th Congressional District in Georgia. In response, Edmondson writes, “the House voted to strip Ms. Greene of her committee assignments for endorsing these false claims, bigoted language and violent behavior.”

In November 2018, as reported by Ana Lucio Murillo, “Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA)—who’s spread several false conspiracies, including that the Parkland, Florida, school shooting was staged—also pushed a bonkers theory that a historic California wildfire in 2018 was caused by a laser beam from outer space, Media Matters reports (https://www.dailybeast.com/marjorie-taylor-greene-spread-bonkers-conspiracy-theory-that-laser-beam-from-space-caused-wildfire). In a post to her Facebook page in November 2018, Taylor Greene said there were ‘too many coincidences to ignore’ surrounding the Camp Fire, writing that ‘oddly there are all these people who have said they saw what looked like lasers or blue beams of light causing the fires.’ She also suggested that that a vice chairman at ‘Rothschild Inc, international investment banking firm’ may have been behind the fire. The laser beam conspiracy theory has been circulated online by QAnon supporters, who claim the Camp Fire was intentionally started to make way for a high-speed rail system in the Golden State or to financially benefit an unknown group.”

At the Feb. 4 hearing on Greene’s committee status, Edmondson reports that Greene “expressed regret…for her previous comments and disavowed many of her most outlandish and repugnant statements. She said she believed that the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks ‘absolutely happened’ and that school shootings were ‘absolutely real’ after previously suggesting that aspects of both were staged” and then maintained “her comments as ‘words of the past’ that ‘do not represent me,’ and she warned that if lawmakers wanted to ‘crucify’ her, it would create a ‘big problem.’” However, she misled her House colleagues when she told them that “she had broken away from QAnon in 2018,” portraying herself as a naïve victim. She said: “I was allowed to believe things that weren’t true,” she said, “and I would ask questions about them and talk about them, and that is absolutely what I regret.”

Edmondson points out that these statements do “not square with a series of social media posts she made in 2019, including liking a Facebook comment that endorsed shooting Ms. Pelosi in the head and suggesting in the same year that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had been replaced with a body double, an element of QAnon’s fictional story line.” Wilkins notes: “While campaigning last year, Greene posted an image of her holding a gun alongside Squad members, with a caption reading: “We need strong conservative Christians to go on the offense against these socialists who want to rip our country apart.” Edmondson notes that Democrats were “particularly incensed by Ms. Greene’s previous calls for violence after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.”

Republicans continue their efforts to limit the Democratic vote

Of course, the Republican Party has a long history of efforts to make voting difficult and gerrymandering congressional districts within states. One can find illuminating analyses in Ari Berman’s book, Give Us the Ballot: Our Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America, and Carol Anderson’s One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression is Destroying Our Democracy.

Michael Wines addresses this issue in a timely article with the headline “After Record Turnout, Republicans Are Trying to Make It Harder to Vote” (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/30/us/republicans-voting-georgia-arizona.html). He reports that “in statehouses nationwide, Republicans who echoed former President Donald J. Trump’s baseless claims of rampant fraud are proposing to make it harder to vote next time — ostensibly to convince the very voters who believed them that elections can be trusted again. And even some colleagues who defended the legitimacy of the November vote are joining them.” Wines cites evidence from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University that “state legislators have filed 106 bills to tighten election rules, generally making it harder to cast a ballot — triple the number at this time last year.” He continues: “Republicans who for more than a decade have used wildly inflated allegations of voter fraud to justify making it harder to vote, are now doing so again, this time seizing on Mr. Trump’s thoroughly debunked charges of a stolen election to push back at Democratic-leaning voters who flocked to mail-in ballots last year.” He gives these examples. “In Georgia, where the State House of Representatives has set up a special committee on election integrity, legislators are pushing to roll back no-excuse absentee voting. Republicans in Pennsylvania plan 14 hearings to revisit complaints they raised last year about the election and to propose limitations on voting.” And in Arizona, “Republicans have subpoenaed November’s ballots and vote tabulation equipment in Maricopa County, a Democratic stronghold that includes Phoenix. Legislators are taking aim at an election system in which four in five ballots are mailed or delivered to drop boxes.” Wines includes the following information.

  • In Arizona, where Democrats captured a second Senate seat and Mr. Biden eked out a 10,500-vote victory, lawmakers are taking aim at an election system in which absentee ballots have long been dominant.
  • One bill would repeal the state’s no-excuse absentee ballot law. Others would pare back automatic mailings of absentee ballots to the 3.2 million voters who have signed up for the service. One ardent advocate of the stolen-election conspiracy theory, State Representative Kevin Payne of Maricopa County, would require that signatures on all mail ballots be notarized, creating an impossibly high bar for most voters. Yet another bill, paradoxically, would require early ballots that are mailed to voters to be delivered by hand.
  • In Georgia, where Mr. Biden won by fewer than 12,000 votes, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Gov. Brian Kemp, both Republicans, have repeatedly defended the election results. The two are nevertheless supporting stricter voting requirements.
  • A proposal by Republicans in the State Senate to eliminate no-excuse absentee ballots — a quarter of the five million votes cast in November — has drawn opposition even before it has been filed. But Republicans broadly support a bill to require submitting a photocopied identification card such as a driver’s license with both applications for absentee ballots and the ballots themselves. Mr. Raffensperger has said he supports that measure and another to make it easier to challenge a voter’s legitimacy at the polls.
  • Bills in Arizona, Mississippi and Wisconsin would end the practice of awarding all electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the statewide vote. Instead, they would be allotted according to votes in congressional districts — which in Republican states are generally gerrymandered to favor Republicans. In Arizona, the Legislature also would choose two electors.
  • In Texas, a state with perhaps the nation’s strictest voting rules and one of the lowest levels of turnout, the state party has declared “election integrity” the top legislative priority. Among other proposals, legislators want to cut the time allotted for early voting, limit outsiders’ ability to help voters fill out ballots and require new voters to prove they are citizens.
  • Republicans who control the Pennsylvania Legislature have mounted one of the most aggressive campaigns, even though any laws they enact probably would have to weather a veto by the state’s Democratic governor….A handful of Republican state lawmakers want to abolish no-excuse absentee voting only 15 months after the Legislature approved it in an election-law package backed by all but two of its 134 G.O.P. members who cast votes. The main supporter of the bill, State Senator Doug Mastriano, has claimed that Mr. Biden’s victory in the state is illegitimate, and spent thousands of dollars to bus protesters to the Jan. 6 demonstration that ended in the assault on the Capitol….Rolling back the law appears a long shot. But there seems to be strong Republican support for other measures, including eliminating drop boxes for absentee ballots, discarding mail-in ballots with technical errors and ending a grace period for receiving ballots mailed by Election Day.

Kenny Stancil also reports on the voter suppression move by Republicans in 28 states, pointing out that “[a]lready this year, 106 bills have been introduced in 28 states—including 17 under complete GOP control, where passage is more likely—to undermine access to the franchise. According to the Brennan Center’s report, ‘These proposals primarily seek to: (1) limit mail voting access; (2) impose stricter voter ID requirements; (3) limit successful pro-voter registration policies; and (4) enable more aggressive voter roll purges’” (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2021/02/05/downright-scary-gop-introduces-100-voter-suppression-bills-28-states). Stancil cites Ari Berman who on Thursday, Feb. 4 in an article for Mother Jones wrote that Republicans are ‘weaponizing Trump’s lies’ about fraud in an attempt to roll back voting rights after last year’s historic turnout and expansion of mail-in ballots.” Democrats in Congress could put an end to voter suppression. Stancil points out “at the federal level, Democratic lawmakers are pushing to expand ballot access” with bills like the “For People Act” that “would establish at least 15 days of early voting in federal elections, allow for automatic voter registration, restore voting rights to former felons, and bar states from prohibiting mail-in and curbside voting—along with a slew of other changes to election and campaign-finance laws.” To accomplish passage, all 50 Democrats in the U.S. Senate, plus Vice-President Kamala Harris, will have to unite in this effort to get around the filibuster.

Trump or Trumpism continues to be a dominant force in the Republican Party?

Sabrina Tavernise addresses this trend and presents evidence that Trump will continue to be a dominating force (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/18/supporters-of-donald-trump.html). For a large percentage of the 74 million people who voted for Trump in the November 2020 election, 11 million more than he got in 2016, and even after the January 6 attack on the Capitol, “interviews in recent days show that their anger and paranoia have only deepened, suggesting that even after Mr. Trump leaves the White House, an embrace of conspiracy theories and rage about the 2020 election will live on, not just among extremist groups but among many Americans.” Tavernise refers to polls that “indicate that only a small fraction of Americans approved of the riot in Washington last week. A Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that 8 percent of adults and 15 percent of Republicans support ‘the actions of people who stormed the U.S. Capitol last week to protest Biden’s election as president.’ That is far from most voters, but enough to show that the belief in a stolen election has entered the American bloodstream and will not be easy to stop.”

The narrative that the election was stolen from Trump remains prevalent in the Trump base. Tavernise quotes Lucan Way, a political scientist at the University of Toronto who writes about authoritarian regimes. Lucan believes that the “election was stolen” narrative is ‘dangerous’ but it has “become part of the political landscape.” She continues: “The country’s political divide is no longer [only] a disagreement over issues like guns and abortion but a fundamental difference in how people see reality. That, in turn, is driving more extremist beliefs. This shift has been years in the making, but it went into hyper-speed after the Nov. 3 election as Mr. Trump and many in his party encouraged Americans, despite all the evidence to the contrary, to believe the results were fraudulent. The belief is still common among Republicans: A Quinnipiac poll published Monday found that 73 percent still falsely believe there was widespread voter fraud.”

Also cited by Tavernise, Lilliana Mason, a political psychologist at the University of Maryland, thinks that polarization is now “the threat to democracy.” Mason and Nathan Kalmoe found in their research that the share of Americans who say it is “at least a little bit justified” to engage in violence for political reasons has doubled in three years, rising to 20 percent after the election, from 10 percent in 2017. The trend was the same for both Republicans and Democrats. But the election was a catalyzing event: The Republicans who said they condoned violence became more approving after it, Professor Mason said. Democrats stayed about the same.” Furthermore, “Professor Mason said she worried that more violence and attacks on elected leaders and state Capitols could be coming, saying the country could be in for a period like the Troubles, the conflict in Northern Ireland in which sectarian violence kept the region unstable for 30 years.” Disturbingly, they found in “interviews with Mr. Trump’s more fervent supporters, people expressed a pattern of falsehoods and fears about the coming Biden administration.” And: “As events like the riot have raced ahead, so have conspiracy theories explaining them. They have blossomed in the exhausting monotony of coronavirus lockdowns.”

Henry Giroux, who holds the McMaster University Chair for Scholarship in the Public Interest in the English and Cultural Studies Department and is the Paulo Freire Distinguished Scholar in Critical Pedagogy, implicitly agrees with Tavernise’s view on Trump’s continuing political influence (https://www.counterpunch.org/2021/01/18/why-trumpians-will-live-on). Giroux argues that “Trumpism is a new political formation, blending white supremacy, voter suppression, market fundamentalism and authoritarianism, and it will survive long after Trump leaves the White House.” From his viewpoint, the January 6 attack on the Capitol reflected influences that had been building for years, involving “conspiracy theories, lies, the dark web, white rage and hatred of those its adherents consider ‘enemies of the people.’ The attack, he writes, is “reminiscent of thugs roaming the streets of Germany in the 1930s brutalizing dissenters and ‘others’ in the deranged Nazi notion of racial and political cleansing.” Such notions and emotions have been fueled “through the language of violence and division, aided by right-wing media outlets such as Fox News and Breitbart,” is “rooted in [a long history of} ultra-nationalism, xenophobia, white supremacy, systemic police violence and anti-immigration bigotry,” and has “lately been normalized as a right-wing populist movement, which Trump brought to the surface of American politics and has worn like a badge.” Trumpism must be resisted, Giroux maintains, and this will require an educated citizenry, “a new language, politics and sense of purpose” that could be facilitated if Joe Biden’s administration would “establish a national effort — criminal investigations, hearings, trials and public assemblies — to hold accountable those who committed crimes under the Trump regime and to educate the public.” It will take such a process to reclaim and actualize “the ideals of justice, compassion, freedom and equality.”

Concluding thoughts

The right-wing forces discussed in this post are daunting. The combination of Trump, his massive and subservient base, the profit-first corporate community, and a Republican Party dominated by Trump, all together represent a formidable political force that could lead to a right-wing Republican government in coming elections. In such an eventuality, the erosion of our Democracy would accelerate.  Given the right conditions over the next 2-4 years, Republicans could regain control of the House, Senate, and Presidency. They already control the Supreme Court. With Trump at the helm, more extreme Republicans in Congress and state houses, they could further undermine the values and institutions that support democracy, more equality, and social justice and unleash and advance policies that lead to less democracy, more inequality, heightened racism and xenophobia, the marginalization of science, experts, and regulatory agencies, unregulated environmental degradation, a wholesale repression of dissent, and other developments that, if not contested, will end up creating a country with a combined “1984” and “1933 Germany” heinous quality.

To counter this right-wing alliance of forces, the Biden administration needs to solve the epoch suffering from the pandemic and take significant and expeditious steps in implementing “relief” to millions of citizens who are in need of work, unemployment insurance, a decent minimum wage standard, affordable housing and medical insurance, and other essential of life. And, with fiscal and monetary policy, they need to boost the economy to offer on-going opportunities through support of renewable energy, appropriate infrastructure and transportation (e.g., electric cars) projects. At the same time, the Biden administration must build the capacity in the economy and the public sector to produce all that’s required to quell Covid-19 viruses, ensuring adequate supplies and simultaneously supporting and coordinating the distribution of the supplies. Along with the economic stimuli of and revenue generated by these policies, the government can raise revenue to pay for them by increasing corporate and progressive income taxes, a wealth tax, and a transaction tax on short-term stock sales.

The Republicans in the U.S. Congress will oppose these initiatives and try to obstruct the policy initiatives coming from the Biden administration. The Biden administration can avoid Republican obstruction by advancing some of its priorities through executive action. David Dayen introduces “an executive action tracker” on the American Prospect website and examines some of Biden’s initial actions (https://prospect.org/day-one-agenda/iintroducing-the-executive-action-tracker). He offers the following examples, among others.

“We…gave Biden partial credit for rejoining the Paris Agreement, as a prelude to developing more advanced emission reduction targets for the 2025–2030 period, to be negotiated at the next global climate talks, which we called for. Another climate policy that was part of our Day One Agenda was a recalculation of the “social cost of carbon,” which would be folded into all cost-benefit analysis on whether to reduce carbon emissions. The Biden team took action on that on day one. In another climate-related item we called for, Biden directed agencies across the government to purchase clean energy and green the fleet with zero-emissions vehicles produced in America with high labor standards. Climate policy has seen the most aggressive executive action thus far.

“Perhaps the most tangible executive action Biden has taken also deals with federal procurement. His January 22 executive order initiated a process to increase the minimum wage for federal employees and contractors to $15 an hour. This is likely to affect a quarter-million workers across the country, who work in federal buildings or provide services paid for by the federal government. The process is only just started, but Biden is overwhelmingly likely to affirm this action within his first one hundred days.”

Policies that require congressional action can be advanced by negating the use by Republican of filibusters and delay through fine-tuning the procedure called reconciliation, which allows legislation already passed in the House to pass in the Senate with a simply majority. The first apparently successful use of reconciliation by Democrats in the Senate is about the $1.9 billion Covid Relief bill (https://www.npr.org/2021/02/06/964604727/biden-democrats-prepare-to-go-it-alone-believing-most-of-country-is-on-their-side).

There are reasons to be optimistic about the ability of the Biden administration to achieve its goals. Biden has just won the presidential election with over 80 million votes, more than and any other president ever received in American history. With some policy successes in the Congress and with significant changes achieved through executive action, the administration and Democrats can win voter support again, especially when combined with creative voter education, coalition building, grassroots organizing, support for state and local Democrats, and well timed and effective communication with voters and potential voters. It can happen. Democrats are on the cusp of passing a large Covid relief package against Republican opposition, nullifying the filibuster. Democratic House managers have conveyed an impeachment brief to the Senate and insist that the evidence of Trump’s complicity in the insurrection and its destruction and harm be made public (https://www.thenation.com/article/politics/jamie-raskin-trump-testify). So far, in its domestic policies, the Biden administration has the feel of a twenty-first century progressive new deal.

Trump, the insurrection, and what comes next

Bob Sheak, Jan 15, 2021

bsheak983@gmail.com

In this post, I review evidence of Trump’s false claims that the election was rigged and stolen from him and how he tried to override the election results to favor him. I then consider the answers to some questions. Why so many Americans were willing to accept Trump’s claims? How thousands were mobilized to travel to Washington D.C. with the purpose of disrupting the Joint-Session of the U.S. Congress as it was in the process of counting the already certified electoral votes? What were they told by Trump at the March to Save America rally on January 6? What did the crowd do, once it reached the Capitol building grounds? And, in concluding thoughts, I raise a series of questions that have become relevant since the attack on the U.S. Congress, while also discussing the impeachment of Trump by the U.S. House, and closing with some wise statement from Richard Heinberg, author and senior fellow at the Post Carbon Institute.

In the weeks before and after the presidential election

Advancing the “big lie” that the election was rigged

Trump’s efforts to win the 2020 presidential election by any means began well before the election itself, when he repeatedly said that millions of mailed-in ballots were fraudulent. Then after the election, Trump claimed that he had won the election by millions of votes – that the election was fraudulent, that millions of votes cast for Biden were invalid, that millions of votes for him were not counted, and, absurdly, that Biden must prove to him that the 80 million plus votes he received were indeed valid votes before he concedes. Susan B. Glasser writes in an article for The New Yorker on January 7th that the country “had to brace for an alarming confluence of virus denialism and election denialism between November 3rd and January 20th.” Glasser continues: “As devastating as it is for American democracy, it is no longer news that the President insists, as he did in a tweet the other day, that he is the victim of the ‘greatest Election Fraud in the history of the United States.’” Then, in the days immediately following the election, “Trump said that his goal was to ‘STOP THE COUNT,’ ‘stop the steal,’ or to demand recounts, or to discover evidence of fraud’” (https://newyorker.com/news/letter-from-trump-washington/its-not-just-trumps-war-on-democracy-anymore). Glasser further writes:

“Trump has escalated and escalated, culminating on Wednesday [Nov 9] with a single-word tweet announcing his new goal: not to win the election but to ‘#OVERTURN’ the results.” Even more strikingly, while his lawyers lost 64 court cases since the election, Trump has told millions of Americans through his Tweet account to believe that the election was rigged against him—seventy-seven per cent of Republicans now say mass fraud occurred, according to a… Quinnipiac poll out Thursday [Nov 10]—and enlisted virtually the entire national leadership of the Republican Party in his concerted attack on the legitimacy of the results.”

Anne Gearan and Josh Dawsey report that “Trump has been fixated on overturning the election for weeks, making hundreds of calls to allies, lawyers, state legislators, governors and other officials and regularly huddling with outside lawyers Rudolph W. Giuliani and Sidney Powell, Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and others.” And Trump fed “his base through twitter that the election was rigged against him, even before he lost the election on November 3. He asked his right-wing supporters to come to Washington for a rally on December 6, when a joint-session of Congress was convening to take the final step to sanctify Biden’s victory. It was at this rally, including an assimilate of some 30,000, that told the crowd to march to the US Capitol building” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-election-capitol-building).

Republican Party leadership delay acknowledging Biden’s victory

Glasser offers the following examples of the Republican Party’s support of Trump’s failed presidential candidacy and his baseless claims of electoral fraud. Not only had both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy refused to recognize his win for weeks after the election; they both voted against a ceremonial motion of the committee organizing the January 20th handover of power to ‘notify the American people’ of plans to inaugurate Biden. In the immediate aftermath of the election, McConnell said that Trump ‘has every right to look into allegations and request recounts under the law.’ When Trump lost the recounts and lost the lawsuits, after the votes had been certified by the states’ electors, and long after Trump had demanded the certified votes in swing states be rejected, McConnell remained silent,” or was so until Dec 15 when he finally relented to and announced the extraordinarily well-documented fact that Biden had won the election.

Trump’s efforts to sway certified vote in Georgia

After the election, Trump also spent time trying to intimidate electoral officials in Georgia to “recalculate” the state’s votes in his favor. Both Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s secretary of state and Ryan Germany, the chief counsel for Mr. Raffensperger’s office, refuted Trump’s claims about electoral irregularities in the state’s presidential election and refused to change the already legally certified votes (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/03/us/politics/fact-checking-trump-georgia.html).

Rallying and inciting his followers to disrupt Joint-Session of the U.S. Congress on January 6

After failing there, Trump turned his attention to the final official step in the certification process of Biden’s victory, that is, when a Joint-Session of Congress is mandated by the constitution (the 12th amendment) to convene and count the electoral votes, already certified by the 50 states and Washington D.C. and delivered to vice-president Mike Pence by December 23 and to be counted on Jan. 6. According to Scott Bomboy, “Any objections at the session must be made in writing by at least one Member each of the Senate and House of Representatives. If an objection meets these requirements, the joint session recesses and the two houses separate and debate the question in their respective chambers for a maximum of two hours,” following a process established by the Electoral Count Act of 1887 and as interpreted by the Congressional Research Service. “The two houses vote separately to accept or reject the objection. They then reassemble in joint session, and announce the results of their respective votes. An objection to a state’s electoral vote must be approved by both houses in order for any contested votes to be excluded” ((https://constitutioncenter.org/blog/explaining-how-congress-settles-electoral-college-disputes).

Scott Bomboy provides some further details, referring to how the process of counting the electoral college votes from the states may be challenged (https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2021/politics/congress-electoral-college-count-tracker). According to Bomboy, if legislators from a state present an “alternative” slate of electors, one that is different from the slate already certified by the Electoral College, or if a slate is challenged without an alternative, the vice president, whose role is “to preserve order,” may allow alternative slates or the elimination of slates to be considered. This would require the two houses of the US Congress to meet separately as already described. This eventuality would open up the possibility that the duly certified slate a state’s electors could be replaced by the alternate slate or that a slate of electors from a given state could be eliminated. Either situation would change the overall electoral vote count in ways that could favor Trump. As it turns out, there were objections from 8 Senators and 139 House members based on the assertion that there should be an additional audit of the ballots in six swing states that had voted in favor of Biden.

The riot/insurrection, then Congress certifies Biden’s win

On January 6, while in the process of counting the votes from the states, rioters breached the Capitol just after 2 p.m. After terrifying members of the Congress and their staffs, vandalizing the building, killing one capitol policeman and injuring 50 or more others, the capitol was only secured by 5:34 p.m. In the end, five died during this what has been called an attempted insurrection. The joint-session of Congress resumed its deliberations at 7:00 p.m. After many hours of considering the objections, first of Arizona, then of Pennsylvania, the objections failed and Biden was declared president-elect just before 4 a.m. on January 7 (https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2021/01/06/how-pro-trump-mob-stormed-us-capitol).

Why did Trump’s followers do his bidding?

Why did tens of thousands of Trump believers decide to converge on D.C. on January 6 with the intention of disrupting the proceedings of a joint-session of the US Congress and then, after being incited by Trump to march to the Capitol, some would breach the understaffed Capitol police force at the Capitol, killing one and injuring 50 or more of them, occupying, roaming through, and vandalizing the building, entering vacated offices of Congress members, and in some cases looking for opportunities to harm members of the Congress?  They came because Trump urged them through his twitter account to come. They came because of hearing Trump for years rant about the “dark state” and the bureaucratic swamp in Washington, about the globalists who took away American jobs, about immigration policies that threatened white supremacy. Indeed, Dan Barry and his colleagues write: “For years, he had demonized political opponents and the media and egged on thuggish behavior at his rallies. But they felt a new urgency when Trump advanced his “big lie” that he, not Biden, had won the November election. The election, trump repeated over and over again, had been rigged against him, at least in six battleground states (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/09/us/capitol-rioters.html).

In a column for The New York Times, journalist and academic Thomas B. Edsall queries experts on “how racism, grievance, resentment and the fear of diminished status came together to fuel violence and mayhem on Jan. 6” (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/13/opinion/capitol-riot-white-grievance.html). Edsall posits: “There is no question that out-and-out racism and a longing to return to the days of white supremacy were high on the list of motivations of the pro-Trump mob that ransacked the Capitol on Jan. 6.” Here is what one of the experts said. “Bart Bonikowski, a professor of sociology at N.Y.U., was forthright:

“Ethnonationalist Trump supporters want to return to a past when white men saw themselves as the core of America and minorities and women ‘knew their place.’ Because doing so requires the upending of the social order, many are prepared to pursue extreme measures, including racial violence and insurrection. What makes their actions all the more dangerous is a self-righteous belief — reinforced by the president, the Republican Party, and right-wing conspiracy peddlers — that they are on the correct side of history as the true defenders of democracy, even as their actions undermine its core institutions and threaten its stability.”

Mobilizing supporters for Trump’s “March to Save America” rally

Getting the “big lie” out

There was plenty of advance publicity for Trump’s rally. Dany Barry and his colleagues at The New York Times report the “advance publicity for the ‘March for America’ had been robust (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/09/us/capitol-rioters.html). They continue: “Beyond the repeated promotions in tweets by the president and his allies, the upcoming event was cheered on social media, including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. But woven through many of the messages to stand up for Mr. Trump — and, if possible, block the congressional certification of the election he claimed he had won — was language that flirted with aggression, even violence. For example, the term ‘Storm the Capitol’ was mentioned 100,000 times in the 30 days preceding Jan. 6, according to Zignal Labs, a media insights company. Many of these mentions appeared in viral tweet threads that discussed the possible storming of the Capitol and included details on how to enter the building.” These were messages that resonated with “the convoluted collection of conspiracy theories” of QAnon “that falsely claims the country is dominated by deep-state bureaucrats and Democrats who worship Satan, the word.” Adherents Barry et. al. write, “have often referred to a coming storm, after which Mr. Trump would preside over a new government order.” The reporters did not find clear evidence of “any big money or coordinated fund-raising…though some Trump supporters appear to have found funds through opaque online networks to help pay for transportation to the rally.”

The mob included extremist, violent-advocating groups

Alex Newhouse, the Research Lead at the Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism, at Middlebury Institute of International Studies, where he focuses on right-wing extremism, religious fundamentalism, online extremism and terrorism, and terrorist propaganda, provides further details on the mobilization ((https://www.commondreams.org/views/2021/01/09/far-right-activists-social-media-telegraphed-violence-weeks-advance-attack-us). Newhouse’s account goes as follows. “Since the election in November, Trump and his allies had spread baseless conspiracy theories alleging that Democratssome Republicans and  had committed widespread voter fraud to elect Biden. In this myth, Trump had won the election in a landslide, and only corrupt politicians stood in the way of his victory. These conspiracy theories sparked fury in all corners of the right-wing ecosystem, and the certification process for the Electoral College votes became a symbol of both corruption and opportunity.” Following a tweet from Trump posted on Dec. 18, ‘Big protest in D.C. on Jan. 6. Be There, will be wild!,’ right-wing groups began organizing for a large-scale protest in Washington, D.C. As a part of his research on far-right extremism, he found on “Facebook, Twitter, Parler and other platforms, influencers, politicians, activists and ordinary people focused on Jan. 6 as their final opportunity to prevent what they claimed was corruption on a monumental scale” and that January 6 was their last chance “to force Congress and Vice-President Mike Pence to nullify the election results and declare Trump the victor.” There were hints of violence, especially on Parler, a social media site that

has attracted millions of new conservative users in the past year, has positioned itself as a bastion for right-wing conspiracy theories and organizing efforts.” Newhouse found from his research that “hundreds of Parler users expressed their sincere belief, and even desire, that the demonstrations would spark a physical battle, revolution or civil war.”

Trump’s allies in the U.S. Congress spread the word long before the January 6 rally

Republican lawmakers using “bellicose language” spreading the false view of the election being rigged against Trump in the days and weeks before Trump’ January 6 rally and subsequent riot. Catie Edmondson and Luke Broadwater document this point. (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/11/us/politics/republicans-capitol-riot.html). They report: “…a handful of Mr. Trump’s most loyal allies in the House had gone even further in the days and weeks before the riot, urging their supporters to come to Washington on Jan. 6 to make a defiant last stand to keep him in power. They linked arms with the organizers of the protest and used inflammatory, bellicose language to describe the stakes.” The journalists continue: “Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Lauren Boebert of Colorado, first-term lawmakers who ran as outspoken defenders of Mr. Trump, referred to the day as Republicans’ ‘1776 moment.’ Representative Paul Gosar of Arizona, who for weeks promoted the Jan. 6 protest and other ‘Stop the Steal’ events across the country more than a dozen times, repeatedly referred to Mr. Biden as an ‘illegitimate usurper’ and suggested that Mr. Trump was the victim of an attempted ‘coup.’” And: “Be ready to defend the Constitution and the White House,” Mr. Gosar wrote in an op-ed titled ‘Are We Witnessing a Coup d’État?’”

Republican Support in the U.S. Congress to postpone and reject final validation of Biden’s already certified victory

Edmondson and Broadwater remind us that “[e]ven after the tear gas cleared and the Capitol was secured, more than 135 House Republicans, including the party’s two top leaders, ultimately voted to throw out millions of lawfully cast votes, fulfilling the rioters’ demands and answering Mr. Trump’s call for Congress to subvert the election results in his favor.”

Dark money groups were involved

Brian Schwartz’s investigations uncovers that interlinked Pro-Trump dark money groups organized the rally that led to deadly Capitol Hill riot,” signed the permit for the rally, promoted the rally, and hired the vender to put up the stage (https://www.cnbc.com/2021/01/09/pro-trump-dark-money-groups-organized-the-rally-led-to-deadly-capitol-hill-riot.html). Specifically, Schwartz writes, “The rally, officially known as the ‘March to Save America,’ was largely organized by a 501(c)(4) group known as Women for America First, an organization certified by the Internal Revenue Service as a nonprofit that can engage in limited political activities. These groups are known as dark money organizations as they do not [ordinarily] publicly disclose their donors.” Amy Kremer chairs Women for America First and is “a longtime political operative that was once the head of the Tea Party Express, an organization that was created to support the conservative Tea Party movement.

Schwartz found that Women for America First received a contribution of $25,000 in 2019 from a pro-Trump policy advocacy dark money group called America First Policies, a pro-Trump policy advocacy dark money group. America First Policies, which is also a 501(c)(4), is chaired by Linda McMahon, a longtime Trump ally and former head of the Small Business Administration. The Washingtonian obtained a copy of the permit and the executive director of a third group, Women for Trump. Kylie Jane Kremer, the executive director of the third group is named on the rally’s permit as the person in charge.

According to Schwartz, “Women for America First’s Facebook pages show they were calling on supporters to be part of what they described as a ‘caravan’ to Washington for the event.” In a recent post, the group calls on Facebook followers “to meet at an address in Virginia on Jan. 5, the day before the now infamous rally, to ‘join the caravan to D.C.’ There’s a picture of a bus with their logo on it and, though it notes they are not providing transportation, they encourage people to follow the bus.” Women for America First’s executive, Amy Kremer, “promoted the rally through a Twitter post that has been retweeted over 16,000 times and, she notes that it was shared by the president himself. Trump had over 80 million followers before he was permanently banned from Twitter on Friday, Jan 8.

The “woman” groups did more than arrange for the rally’s venue and promote the rally. They were additionally engaged from Jan. 2 through Jan. 5 in “setting up lighting, tents, flooring, bike racks, chairs and decor, all for Trump’s speech on Jan. 6.” A production vender, Event Strategies, was also involved. Event Strategies “was founded by Tim Unes. On the company website, Unes is credited with producing Trump’s 2015 ‘campaign announcement tour’ and later joined the campaign as a deputy director of advance.”

One other interesting point. Schwartz writes: “According to video obtained by CNBC, those backstage included the president, Donald Trump Jr., his girlfriend and Trump campaign advisor Kimberly Guilfoyle, his brother Eric Trump and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. Many behind the scenes were laughing and dancing before the festivities ensued.”

Trump’s crowd arrives

On Tuesday night, Jan. 5, early arrivers were stirred  up

Dan BarryMike McIntire and Matthew Rosenberg report: “A few thousand arrived for an earlier rally on the previous night of January 5 and gathered at Freedom Plaza in Washington for ‘The Rally to Save America’ event, permitted as ‘The Rally to Revival’(https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/09/us/capitol-rioters.html). The early arrivals were addressed by “well-known evangelists, alt-right celebrities (Alex Jones of Infowars) and Trump loyalists, including his former national security adviser Michael Flynn and the self-described Republican dirty trickster Roger Stone, both of whom he [Trump] had pardoned. The speakers repeatedly encouraged the attendees to see themselves as foot soldiers fighting to save the country. Americans, Mr. Flynn said, were ready to ‘bleed’ for freedom.” One speaker declared “It is time for war.” The journalists add: “As the audience thinned, groups of young men emerged in Kevlar vests and helmets, a number of them holding clubs and knives. Some were aligned with the neofascist Proud Boys; others with the Three Percenters, a far-right militia group.”

Wednesday, Jan. 6: The “Save America” Rally and March – an incitement to commit violence?

Before the rally on Jan. 7, Anne Gearan and Josh Dawsey that “some aides worried that if Trump spoke at the event not far from the Capitol, it could stoke the crowd and create a volatile scene, a senior administration official said. But Trump, the official said, was determined to do it” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-election-capitol-building). Then, once in front of the crowd, they report some of Trump’s fiery words as follows. “‘We will never give up. We will never concede. It doesn’t happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved,’ Trump told the crowd to whoops and loud cheers, falsely claiming that President-elect Joe Biden’s victory was based on fraudulent vote counts. ‘We won this election, and we won it by a landslide. This was not a close election.’” Gearan and Dawsey  report Trump also told the crowd that “Republicans had to keep fighting and urged a crowd of aggrieved supporters to mount an insurrection against constitutional order on Wednesday, encouraging what quickly became a mob assault on the U.S. Capitol carried out in his name. The fabrications were familiar, but this time, Trump’s angry rant amounted to a call to arms.” Later Wednesday, after the crowd had become an insurrectionary mob, “Trump appeared to sympathize with the mob and to explain away the violence as the natural consequence of his election loss to Biden. He also edged close to celebrating the day’s events in a tweet with these words: “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long,” adding, after the mayhem at the Capitol was going on, “Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!” Twitter then decided to lock Trump’s account.

Charlie Savage analyze’s what Trump told the assembled crowd at the rally and asks the question whether Trump’s words constituted an incitement to riot. The implication of what he writes is that Trump’s statement did represent an incitement. (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/10/us/trump-speech-riot.html). As already noted, Trump “had urged supporters to come to Washington for a ‘Save America March’ on Wednesday, when Congress would ceremonially count President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s win, telling them to “be there, will be wild!.” He identifies five parts of Trump’s diatribe at the rally.

First, “Trump urged his supporters to ‘fight much harder’ against ‘bad people’ and ‘show strength’ at the Capitol.” For example, Trump told the crowd this: “Republicans are constantly fighting like a boxer with his hands tied behind his back. It’s like a boxer. And we want to be so nice. We want to be so respectful of everybody, including bad people. And we’re going to have to fight much harder.” At the same time, he made only a passing suggestion that the protest should be nonviolent, saying, “I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.”

Second, “Trump told the crowd that ‘very different rules’ applied,” as when he said: “When you catch somebody in a fraud, you are allowed to go by very different rules. So I hope Mike [vice-president Pence] has the courage to do what he has to do, and I hope he doesn’t listen to the RINOs [moderate Republicans] and the stupid people that he’s listening to.”

Third, “Trump insinuated that Republican officials, including Pence, would endanger themselves by accepting Biden’s win.” With respect to this point, Trump hoped that Pence would have the courage to support alternative slates of electors, thanked the “courageous” members of the Senate who were supporting his position, and said that the vice-president and senators who did not support him that it would safer to go along with what he wanted.”

Fourth, Trump suggested that he wanted his supporters to stop the certification of Biden’s electoral win, not just protest it.” For example, Trump said that “we will stop the steal,” or the country “will have an illegitimate president” and “we can’t let that happen” and “we will fight like hell” to keep it from happening.

Fifth, As he dispatched his supporters into what became deadly chaos, Trump falsely told them that he would come, too.” Here’s what he said: we’re going to walk down, and I’ll be there with you. … We are going to the Capitol, and we are going to try and give — the Democrats are hopeless, they are never voting for anything, not even one vote, but we are going to try — give our Republicans, the weak ones, because the strong ones don’t need any of our help, we’re try — going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.”

The criminal incursion of the Capitol by a violent insurrectionary mob – a rough timeline

Sandhya Kambhampati and her colleagues at The LA Times provide a detailed time-line and the context of the mob’s attack on January 6 on the nation’s capital, interrupting the electoral college vote count (https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2021/01/06/how-pro-trump-mob-stormed-us-capitol). They write: “The rioters, fueled by Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud, breached the building and ran freely through its historic halls before being forced out.”

Trump supporters gathered between 11:00 a.m. and 12:00 a.m. to hear Trump repeat his claims of how the election has been stolen from him and that they should protest the ratification by the Joint Session at the capitol building. By 1:00 p.m., his supporters are advancing toward the capitol. At 1:13 p.m. Trump finishes his speech, closing with this: “We’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Ave … and we’re going to [try] to give our Republicans – the weak ones because the strong ones don’t need any of our help – we’re to try and get them kind of pride and boldness they need to take back our country.” By 1:20 p.m., Trump’s crowd, now a violent, insurrectionary force, forms outside the Capitol building, while some try and successfully break past police barriers.” At 2:16 p.m., rioters breach the building, despite it being on lockdown.

By 2:20 p.m., disregarding guards, Trump’s supporters are banging on doors and breaking windows and are entering the building, storming into the Capitol Rotunda by 3:00 p.m.

Reporters from The New York Times, add further details about this criminal invasion (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/01/06/us/trump-mob-capitol-building).

  • “Shouting demonstrators mobbed the second-floor lobby just outside the Senate chamber, as law enforcement officers placed themselves in front of the chamber doors.”
  • “The President’s supporters swarmed the western and eastern sides of the Capitol’s exterior….
  • “The mob also broke through the main doors on the east side of the Capitol’s central building, which leads into the Capitol Rotunda,” some vandalizing the statutes ringing the area.”
  • The mob gathered outside the door of the main House chamber, while lawmakers “were given masks and evacuated”
  • Police arrested “at least 13 people, while dozens of others were allowed to go free”
  • Meanwhile, rioters invaded and roamed freely in the Senate chamber. Speaker Pelosi’s suite of offices was breached.

The LA Times reporters continue the story.

4:06 p.m.: “President-elect Joe Biden makes a speech in Delaware, saying ‘our democracy is under unprecedented assault.”

4:18 p.m.: “Trump tweets a video repeating his false claims of election fraud and praising his supporters, although he encouraged them to go home.”

5:34 p.m.: “Capitol building is announced as secure.”

6:00 p.m.: Curfew starts in Washington

7:00: p.m.: Preparation for the Joint-Session of Congress to resume and continue to count the electoral college results

Trump has second thoughts

At 4.54 p.m. on January 7, Trump switched gear and, in a video, condemned the mob violence he had unleashed. Dave Nemetz reports: “Trump began the video by addressing the ‘heinous attack’ that took place on Wednesday when a mob of pro-Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol, which resulted in at least four deaths [now 5] and several dozen injuries [over 50]. After facing intense criticism for inciting his supporters and justifying the siege, Trump now says he is ‘outraged’ by it: ‘The demonstrators who infiltrated the Capitol has defiled the seat of American democracy. To those who engaged in the acts of violence and destruction, you do not represent our country. And to those who broke the law, you will pay” (https://tvline.com/2021/01/07/trump-concession-speech-video-concedes-election-watch).

Trump’s belated concession

According to a report by Darragh Roche, “White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications Dan Scavino shared Trump’s statement on Twitter. The president is not currently able to send tweets from his account” (https://www.newsweek.com/did-donald-trump-concede-president-statement-sparks-debate-1559597). The statement read as follows: “Even though I totally disagree with the outcome of the election, and the facts bear me out, nevertheless there will be an orderly transition on January 20th. I have always said we would continue our fight to ensure that only legal votes were counted. While this represents the end of the greatest first term in presidential history, it’s only the beginning of our fight to Make America Great Again!”

There is now a debate about whether Trump’s statement meant. He refers to an “orderly transition,” but also suggests the election results illegally denied him the presidency. And, in conceding the election, he does not mention Biden by name. Roche adds: “Many social media users were quick to suggest that Trump’s statement stopped short of conceding that Biden had defeated him, while others claimed it was as close to a formal concession as the president would offer.”

Reports on the mayhem – some examples

Amy Davidson Sorkin, reporting for The New Yorker, describes what she witnessed (https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/the-mob-is-gone-but-the-crisis-of-the-republican-party-has-only-begun).

Many of the Trumpists had displayed, for the cameras, a thuggish air of territorialism, as if it hadn’t occurred to them that battering through the windows of the Capitol; assaulting police officers; trying to hunt down the Vice-President, Mike Pence; physically threatening legislators; or vandalizing the Speaker’s office might carry with it legal liability. It’s not known how many may have had guns or other weapons. There had been no effective effort to repel them and, in the immediate wake, few arrests. (A woman died after being shot by the Capitol police; three people died of what authorities described as medical emergencies [a capitol police officer later died from an assult by an insurrecetionists].) Those circumstances will require an urgent and profound inquiry in the days to come—how much is attributable to a security failure, to the mis-deployment of law-enforcement, to a sense of impunity encouraged by Donald Trump, to a strain of violence in our political culture, or to, as Lamb [Democratic representative from 17th Disrict, Pa] suggested, racism? (Some of the rioters carried Confederate and white-supremacist symbols, as well as ‘TRUMP’ flags.)

Anne Gearan and Josh Dawsey report that Most of the rioters shown on television smashing their way into the Capitol were wearing Trump regalia. Many shouted his name or proclaimed the conspiracy theories he has told them about unsubstantiated election fraud, saying it robbed him of a victory in the Nov. 3 election” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-election-capitol-building).

Dan BarryMike McIntire and Matthew Rosenberg write about what they saw (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/09/us/capitol-rioters.html). “People surged past a few Capitol Police officers to bang on the windows and doors. Many eyewitness accounts and videos have since emerged that convey the pandemonium as hundreds of people overwhelmed the inadequate law-enforcement presence. In several instances of role reversal, for example, rioters are seen firing what appeared to be pepper spray at police officers trying to prevent mobs from getting closer to the Capitol Building. After a few minutes, the crowd broke through and began streaming into an empty office. Glass shards crunched under people’s feet, as the scene descended into chaos. Some stood in awe, while others took action. As one group prepared to break through an entryway, a Trump supporter raised a wine bottle and shouted, ‘Whose way?’ To which the crowd responded, ‘Our way!’”

Katie Shepherd reports on a video, first shown by CNN on Sunday, Jan. 10, showing a mob dragging a police officer down stars” and “one rioter beating an officer with a pole flying the U.S. flag” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2021/01/11/police-beating-capitol-mob). Shepherd describes the videoed scene further: “one man in a white hat and backpack grabbed a police officer by the helmet, dragging the officer down the stairs. Soon, other rioters kicked and punched the officer, and one man even bashed the prone figure repeatedly with a pole flying an American flag.” The people around the officer chanted “U-S-A! U-S-A!” “and a man shouted ‘Take him out,’” while others “threw flagpoles, metal crutches and other projectiles at police standing just inside an archway, trying to prevent the mob from entering the Capitol.”

The rioters seem to know where to go in the labyrinth spaces and offices of the Capitol building. There is some evidence that they may have been assisted by Congress members or some of the capitol police. Sharon Zhang reports that on the day before the pro-Trump mob violently breached the Capitol, Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-New Jersey) “saw some members of Congress leading groups on what she termed ‘reconnaissance’ tours of the [locked down] building” (https://truthout.org/articles/gop-reps-accused-of-giving-reconnaissance-tours-of-capitol-before-mob-attack). There are other similar claims. ‘One video appears to show members of the violent mob discussing the Capitol floor plan in detail on the day of the breach and planning things like breaking windows in order to ‘take this building.’ Zhang continues: “One of the organizers of the violent attempted coup, Ali Alexander, claimed in a now-deleted video that he specifically had help from members of Congress in planning the breach that killed five people. Alexander names three Trump-friendly Congress members who he says helped him plan the “Stop the Steal” mob: Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Alabama), Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Arizona) and Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Arizona).” Their goal, according to Alexander, was to put “‘maximum pressure on Congress’ while they were certifying the Electoral College vote and ‘change the hearts and the minds of Republicans who were in that body, hearing our loud roar from outside.’ There may have been more than just a few people involved. Acccording to Zhang, “At least a dozen officers are under investigation for their involvement in the breach, and several Capitol Police officers have been suspended. One had taken a selfie with a member of the mob, and one, donning a ‘Make America Great Again’ hat, helped in directing the far right militants around the Capitol during the breach. Investigators in another case found messages from officers in support of the extremist coup and bolstering Trump’s fraudulent claims about the election. The Capitol Police chief resigned on Sunday.”

Matthew Rosenberg and Ainara Tiefenthaler capture the “far-right symbols at the Capitol riot” representing various extremist groups (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/13/video/extremist-signs-symbols-capitol-riot.html). They saw Militiamen [who] showed up proudly bearing the emblems of their groups — American flags with the stars replaced by the Roman numeral III, patches that read ‘Oath Keepers.’ Alt-right types wore Pepe the Frog masks, and QAnon adherents could be seen in T-shirts urging people to ‘Trust the Plan.’ White supremacists brought their variant of the Crusader cross.” Additionally, “there were thousands of Trump supporters with MAGA gear — flags, hats, T-shirts, thermoses, socks. One flag portrayed President Trump as Rambo; another featured him riding a Tyrannosaurus rex and carrying the kind of rocket-propelled grenade launcher seen on the streets of Mogadishu or Kandahar.” Among the right-wing militias were “the Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters, whose symbol, the Roman numeral III, could be seen on patches and flags. Both groups are anti-government, pro-guns and, nowadays, devoted to Mr. Trump.” The Boogaloos showed up wearing “their signature Hawaiian shirts” and the Proud Boys in their orange hats, both groups “include racists and anti-Semites, though the outright white supremacists tend to keep a lower profile.” QAnon members were there, wearing shirts with the letter “Q.” This is a group that “falsely claims that there is a cabal of Democrats, deep-state bureaucrats and international financiers who use their power to rape and kill children, and that Mr. Trump was elected to vanquish them.” Rosenberg and Tiefenthaler that these and other far-right groups reveal “an alternate political universe where violent extremists, outright racists and conspiracy theorists march side by side with evangelical Christians, suburban Trump supporters and young men who revel in making memes to ‘own the libs,’” They are united by their “loyalty to Mr. Trump and a firm belief in his false and discredited insistence that the election was stolen.”

U.S. military leaders condemn the Capitol riot (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-elections-capitol-military). Idress Ali writes: “The U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, the uniformed leaders of the military branches, on Tuesday put out a rare message to service members saying the violent riots last week were an assault on America’s constitutional process and against the law.” In an internal memo to troops, the seven generals and one admiral said: “The violent riot in Washington D.C. on January 6, 2021 was a direct assault on the U.S. Congress, the Capitol building, and our Constitutional process,” adding that “the military remained committed to protecting and defending the Constitution.” They said “that President-elect Joe Biden would be inaugurated on Jan. 20 and become their commander in chief.” In addition, Ali reports, “The Army told Reuters on Tuesday that it was working with the FBI to see if any attackers were current service members and with the Secret Service to see if any of the nearly 10,000 National Guard troops securing Biden’s inauguration would need additional screening.”

Concluding thoughts

There are many questions still to be answered about the January 6 riot/insurrection. Why was security of the Capitol building so lax? Will the Republican Party continue to be dominated by Trump? Will a large number of Republicans in the U.S. Congress continue to say that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Trump and do their best to de-legitimize Biden’s administration? How many of the rioters will be brought to justice? Will Trump pardon any of the insurrectionists? Will Trump’s base remain blindly loyal to him? Will Trump and his supporters find ways to use social media to transmit their anti-constitutional views? With or without Trump as leader, will this right-wing base continue to believe that Biden’s victory was stolen? How many of the base are geared up to continue terrorizing government officials? Will journalists and other citizens, especially Black and Brown people and other with whom they disagree, be terrorized? Will the country become like a war zone?  How will law enforcement respond? Will the mega-corporations and banks continue to support the extremist Republicans in the Congress and move against Biden? What will the radicalized Trump supporters do to protest Biden’s Inauguration on January 20 in Washington, D.C., and in the fifty state capitols?

Because of all that Trump has done and what he represents, he must be – should be – removed from ever again holding political office. The process of achieving this end has begun with the U.S. House voting to impeach Trump (for the second time on January 13. Wikipedia provides a succinct account of the steps leading up to Trump being impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives.

“The second impeachment of Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States, occurred on January 13, 2021, one week before his term was due to expireTrump‘s impeachment by the House of Representatives came after his attempts to overturn the 2020 United States presidential election; the adopted article of “incitement of insurrection” cited his January 2 phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and alleged that Trump incited the storming of the United States Capitol one week prior.[1] He is the only U.S. president and the only holder of any federal office to have been impeached twice, the previous time in December 2019 for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.[2][3]

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House would impeach Trump for instigating “an armed insurrection against America” if his Cabinet did not strip him of his powers and duties using the 25th Amendment.[4] On January 11, Pelosi gave Vice President Mike Pence an ultimatum to invoke the 25th Amendment within 24 hours or the House would proceed with impeachment proceedings.[5] On January 12, in a letter to Pelosi, Pence made it clear that he would not invoke Section 4 of the 25th Amendment, arguing that doing so would not “be in the best interest of our Nation or consistent with our Constitution”.[6] Nevertheless, a majority of the House of Representatives, including one Republican, passed a resolution urging Pence to either invoke the 25th Amendment or have the House majority impeach Trump.[7]

On January 11, 2021, an article of impeachment charging Trump with “incitement of insurrection” against the U.S. government and “lawless action at the Capitol” was introduced to the House of Representatives.[8] The article was introduced with more than 200 co-sponsors.[9]

‘Trump’s impeachment marked the fourth impeachment of a president in U.S. history, the first being the impeachment of Andrew Johnson in 1868, and the second being the impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1999. With ten Republican representatives voting support, the resolution received the most pro-impeachment votes ever from the president’s party and is thus the most bipartisan presidential impeachment in history.[10] This was also the first presidential impeachment in which all members of the majority caucus voted unanimously for impeachment. If the Senate holds a trial and a two-thirds majority of senators vote to convict Trump, he would be either the first president in U.S. history to be removed from office by impeachment or the first former president to be convicted by the Senate. Either result would trigger a second vote in which a simple majority in the Senate is needed to permanently disqualify Trump from holding public office in the United States.[11]

Reporting for CNN, Meg Wagner and her colleagues report that “The House voted 232 to 197 to impeach Trump exactly one week after rioters forced lawmakers to flee from the very chamber in which they cast ballots in during the fourth presidential impeachment in US history. This is the first time a President has been impeached twice.” There were 10 Republicans who joined the vote to impeach Trump, “including the House’s No. 3 Republican, Liz Cheney of Wyoming, joined all Democratsto impeach Trump to impeach Trump for ‘incitement of insurrection.” Wagner continues: “Cheney’s statement was cited by impeachment supporters and detractors alike Wednesday after she charged that Trump ‘summoned this mob, assembled the mob and lit the flame of this attack’” (https://www.cnn.com/politics/live-news/house-trump-impeachment-vote-01-13-21/index.html).

Let me close this post with the wise comments by Richard Heinberg, senior fellow at the Post Carbon Institute and author of 13 books. Here’s the last part of his essay (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2021/01/14/insurrection-pandemic-and-censorship).

“The best I can suggest is that we as a society draw the line at physical violence and direct calls for harm to others. Prosecute anyone who vandalizes property or injures other people in the process of making their point, along with those who knowingly incite them. Take down message boards used to plan efforts to overthrow elected leaders. Beyond that, as long as we have the internet and social media, we will probably have to live with the cognitive dissonance and fracturing of consensus reality that they facilitate. It’s an uncomfortable situation, but the alternatives are worse.

“We have individual responsibility for how we shape our own worldviews based on the news and opinions we “ingest.” Don’t assume the worst about individuals who have adopted views you find unhinged or even dangerous; sometimes they’re just ordinary people who’ve fallen into a disinformation echo chamber. Heterodox [unorthodox opinions or doctrines] assertions about reality are worth examining; sometimes they’re right. But when you find yourself considering a novel claim or theory about what’s happening and why, whether it concerns politics or the pandemic, exercise critical thinking. Has this idea been debunked? By whom? What are the verifiable facts? Be prepared to withhold judgment if the facts are unclear. The mainstream media are getting pummeled these days—sometimes for good reason. But credentialed reporting is the closest thing we have to a science of fact gathering. So, just as you should be careful not to dismiss a heterodox idea just because it’s not mainstream, be even more leery to dismiss reportage just because it issues from, say, CNN or the New York Times. If you find yourself thinking, “Of course they’d say that—they’re all in it together!”, then think again. If your media diet is making you anxious and angry, take time out. Go for a walk in the woods—and if no woods are available, spend time in as natural an environment as you can find.

“Those of us who understand the systemic crises we face have a special responsibility to build our own emotional resilience and to be open-minded so that we can help others in our communities, who don’t have that same clarity, to navigate the craziness to come.

“It’s a crazy world out there, and it’s getting crazier. Don’t add to the insanity.”

Trump’s unceasing attack on democracy

Bob Sheak Dec 18, 2020

The following post considers Trump’s nefarious impact on US politics and governance, the attempts by him and his allies to undermine Biden’s electoral victory, and, how thus far these attempts have failed. If nothing else, the post helps to explain how the presidential election process works and tries to clarify how the Electoral College figures into and confounds this process.

2016:  Winning the Electoral College while losing the popular vote

Trump’s ascendance to the presidency is, Ralph Nader maintains, a “once-in-forever fluke,” that is, a reflection of “the confluence of Putin, Wikileaks, James Comey, the electoral college, and racially targeted voter suppression” (Mark Green and Ralph Nader, Wreaking America: How Trump’s Lawbreaking and Lies Betray US all, x-xi). He lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by almost 3 million votes, but the Electoral College gave him the victory, and this despite “a lifetime of cheating workers, consumers, bankers, and wives,” plus leaving Trump to think “he can get away with just about anything” (xii). Susan B. Glasser reminds us of Trump’s besmirched  record, writing on December 11 in the New Yorker magazine (online) that “Donald Trump has survived impeachment, twenty-six sexual-misconduct accusations, and thousands of lawsuits” (https://newyorker.com/news/letter-from-trump-washington/its-not-just-trumps-war-on-democracy-anymore). In their book, The Trump Revealed, Michael Kranish and Marc Fisher write: “Over three decades, Trump and his companies filed more than 1,900 lawsuits and were named as defendants in 1,450 others, according to a USA Today analysis (p. 300). David Cay Johnston reports that Trump has been a con artist his entire life. In his book, It’s Even Worse Than You Think, Johnston writes:

“In The Art of the Deal he [Trump] brags about deceptions that enriched him. He has boasted about not paying banks that loaned him billions of dollars. He conned thousands of people desperate to learn what Trump said were the secrets of his success into paying up to $35,000 to attend Trump University. In a promotional video, Trump said his university would provide a better education than the finest business schools with a faculty he personally picked. Lawsuits forced Trump’s testimony and documents that showed that there were no secrets he shared with the ‘students.’ The faculty never met Trump. These professors turned out to be fast-food managers and others with no experience in real estates, the focus of the ‘university.’ Because of the lawsuits, Trump paid back $25 million to the people he conned so the scam would not follow him into the White House” (p. 10).

 Trump entered the White House as a minority-president, having won only 45.9 percent of the popular vote, with 62,985,106 total votes, compared to Hillary Clinton’s 48% percent and 65,853,625 votes. Nonetheless, in the US electoral system, the popular vote is not what determines the outcome. Rather it is the Electoral College (the only one in the world), which gives low-population, highly-rural states a disproportionate impact in the elections of presidents and vice-presidents. In the Electoral College, Trump garnered 306 electoral votes to Clinton’s 232 (https://nytimes.com/2016/results/president).

2016-2020: In office

Nader points out that Trump survived the tumult and crises of his presidency by “gaming the system,” having his message amplified by right-wing media, with the unquestioning support of “a core of Republican voters who, due to economic grievances, religion, region, or race, comprise an unbreakable steady 25 percent [or more] of aggrieved Americans” (xv). He also had the groveling support of Congressional Republicans who feared how Trump could turn his electoral base against them if they crossed him. But there is more to the story. The Republicans used their control of the Senate to nullify Democratic legislative initiatives for the sake of political power and to advance a right-wing agenda. Trump and the Republicans in the U.S. Congress agreed on their mutual desire to advance a neoliberal agenda to lower taxes, deregulate whatever they could, privatize public resources when there was a profit, continue corporate subsidies, forget about anti-trust policy, starve social-welfare programs. Nader also addresses how Republicans intensified political gridlock: “As soon as the Democrats took control of the House in January 2019, the White House practiced constant stonewalling and disparagement of this coequal branch of government” and the Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, refused to have hundreds of bills from the House considered at all by Senate committees. Additionally, Trump benefited from the conservative-dominated Supreme Court, which gave him five-to-four decisions in favor of his “Muslim Ban and on racial gerrymandering.” Attorney General William Barr successfully covered-up the devastating Mueller Report and “cherry-picked all confidential intelligence…to support Trump’s evidence-free assertion that the Mueller probe will illegitimate.”

At the same time, the Republicans in Congress countenanced Trump’s self-promoting declarations, his continuous stream of often contradictory and inflammatory tweets, and behavior that has been described by mental health experts as exhibiting a “malicious narcissistic” personality (see Bandy Lee’s edited book, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump). At the same time, Trump has used his power, rooted in his cult-like, clueless base following, to intimidate, ridicule, and punish those who challenge his power and reward those who advance his interests, however nefarious. Near the end of their 417 page scathing “insider” account of Trump’s presidency, Philip Rucker and Carol Leoning write: “When Alexander Hamilton wrote the two essays in The Federalist devoted to the idea of impeachment, Trump was the kind of president he had in mind – a populist demagogue who would foment frenzy, pander to prejudices, feed of chaos, and secretly betray the American people in the accumulation of power – according to Hamilton’s biographer Ron Chernow” (A Very Stable Genius, p. 416). And he urges his supporters to find ways to avoid paying taxes, just as he has.

Abby Zimet provides an apt summary of some of the other major effects of the Trump presidency, supported by his base, the Republican Party, along with many rich donors and major segments of the corporate community. Zimet writes:

“George Packer wrote an epically searing political obituary by the numbers – 300,000 COVID dead, millions lost health insurance, 666 children lost parents, slashed numbers of refugees, reversed 80 environmental rules, appointed most “not qualified” judges of last 50 years, grew national debt $7 trillion, signed one, bad piece of major legislation, made/scammed millions, told 25,000 lies that “contaminated the minds of tens of millions of people…poisoning the atmosphere like radioactive dust” – to conclude, “America under Trump became less free, less equal, more divided, more alone, deeper in debt, swampier, dirtier, meaner, sicker, and deader. It also became more delusional” (https://commondreams.org/further/2020/12/15/embarrassing-situation).

Trump has little regard for verifiable facts

And, through it all, Trump lied continuously. Reporters at The Washington Post have kept track of Trump’s lies and misrepresentations over the course of his presidency and counted over 20,000 such statements from the beginning of his presidency to November 2020. Glenn Kessler, who keeps track of Trump’s lying for The Washington Post, had counted “22,000 false or misleading statements” as of November 9, 2020 (https://washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/11/09/fact-checking-post-trump-era). One of the glaring and repeated false statements was that he claimed to have a “terrific” health plan that he was going to release to replace the Affordable Care Act and that it would be “so much better.” The plan was never forthcoming. Kessler also notes that Trump “also falsely said he would protect patients with preexisting conditions even as he pursued a strategy in the courts that could nullify those protections.”

Trump’s core sticks with him

“Through his entire term,” Kessler writes, “Trump is the first president since World War II to fail to ever win majority support in public opinion polls.” He adds: “A key reason is that relatively few Americans believed he was honest and trustworthy, an important metric in Gallup polls. Gallup has described this as ‘among his weakest personal characteristics.’ The fact is that “Trump earned 33 or 34 percent on the trustworthiness question throughout most of his presidency, though it inched up to 40 percent in the weeks before the election. By contrast, Americans were more likely to consider George W. Bush (65 percent), Barack Obama (61 percent) and Bill Clinton (46 percent) honest and trustworthy.” The 33% to 40 percent who believed Trump to be trustworthy are among those who make up his unquestioning electoral base. Fortunately, the majority who voted for Biden in November were not swayed by Trump’s fabrications.

Many in Trump’s base don’t care about “honesty”

Still, Trump received about 74 million votes in the election, up by about 11 million over his vote total in 2016. Polls also find that Republican voters had come to believe that it was important for presidential candidates to be honest. Kessler refers to the following evidence. A 2007 Associated Press-Yahoo poll found that “71 percent of Republicans agreed with this statement. A 2018 poll by the Washington Post found that only 49 percent of Republicans agreed that honesty was extremely important in choosing a presidential candidate. Additionally, the Washington Post poll “also found that clear majorities across party lines said it is never acceptable for political leaders to make false statements. But there was an important distinction between the two parties: 41 percent of Republicans said false claims are sometimes acceptable ‘to do what’s right for the country,’ while only 25 percent of Democrats and 26 percent of independents agreed.”

Fascist tendencies

There are fascist tendencies reflected in Trump’s governance that are not challenged by his base or those who benefit from his right-wing policies. Federico Finchelstein, professor of history at the New School of Social Research, posits that the leader in a fascist movement or state represents what many people at a given time and place yearn for. He writes in his book A Brief History of Fascist Lies: “the reality that their fundamentally authoritarian lies and racist fantasies about the world become constantly normalized and supported by a wide segment of the population, as well as major party figures. Most pointedly, Finchelstein writes about Trump: “He does not lie because he is a crazy cheater; he lies because he belongs to a political tradition that proposes an alternative notion of truth that emanates from the sacred infallibility of the leader” (p. 104). He continues: “…Trumpism represents an extreme form of… antiliberal, and often anti-constitutional, authoritarian democracy with a political rationale of its own. This is a political formation with a mythical notion of the truth,” so he replaces “historical truth with fake ideas about the glorious past that their leaders promise to revive,” with expressions such as “Make America Great Again.” For his tens of millions of followers, he promises to restore to life “a past that never existed” (p. 105). But it must be added, Trump also behaves as he does so as to advance a relatively unfettered, neoliberal-oriented capitalist system and to protect the interests of the mega-corporations, the rich, and his own family’s wealth.

2020: Trump loses the election according to official and verified counts

Biden won both the popular vote, 81,283,098 to 74,222.957, and the Electoral College vote, 306 to 232 (https://cnn.com/elections/2020/results/president).

Claiming a rigged, fraudulent election

Susan B. Glasser, cited previously, writes that the country “had to brace for an alarming confluence of virus denialism and election denialism between November 3rd and January 20th. As devastating as it is for American democracy, it is no longer news that the President insists, as he did in a tweet the other day, that he is the victim of the ‘greatest Election Fraud in the history of the United States.’” Then, in the days immediately following the election, “Trump said that his goal was to ‘STOP THE COUNT,’ ‘stop the steal,’ or to demand recounts, or to discover evidence of fraud.’” Since then , Glasser reports:

“Trump has escalated and escalated, culminating on Wednesday [Nov 9] with a single-word tweet announcing his new goal: not to win the election but to ‘#OVERTURN’ the results. Even more strikingly, while his allies have lost 59 court cases since the election, Trump has convinced millions of Americans to believe that the election was rigged against him—seventy-seven per cent of Republicans now say mass fraud occurred, according to a new Quinnipiac poll out Thursday [Nov 10]—and enlisted virtually the entire national leadership of the Republican Party in his concerted attack on the legitimacy of the results.”

Glasser offers the following examples of the Republican Party’s support of Trump’s failed presidential candidacy and his baseless claims of electoral fraud. Not only have both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy refused to recognize his win; they both voted against a ceremonial motion of the committee organizing the January 20th handover of power to ‘notify the American people’ of plans to inaugurate Biden. In the immediate aftermath of the election, McConnell said that Trump ‘has every right to look into allegations and request recounts under the law.’ Now that Trump has lost the recounts and lost the lawsuits, now that the results have been certified [by the states’ electors] and Trump is openly talking about overturning them, McConnell has been silent” [or did so until Dec 15].

A rundown of Trump’s misbegotten lawsuits

There are many accounts of these lawsuits. Zoe Tillman provides an informative overview in an article for Buzzfeed News (https://bussfeednews.com/article/zoetillman/trump-election-court-losses-electoral-college). Her key generalization is that “Trump and his allies have lost nearly 60 [59] election fights in court” as of December 14, with more in the pipeline. As of December 17, Trump’s lawsuits continued to claim that the president had only lost the election because ballots for Trump had been intentionally displaced, intentionally disregarded or not counted, while thousands of ballots (or more) for Biden were fraudulent and should not have been counted. Consider some examples.

Since Nov. 3, Tillman writes, “Trump and his allies have lost 59 times in court…according to a running tally on Twitter from Marc Elias, the lawyer leading Democrats’ fight against the GOP’s post-election challenges. On December 11, the Supreme Court issued a one-paragraph rejection of Trump and Texas’ bid to invalidate more than 20 million votes in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

In a Wisconsin case, “US District Judge Brett Ludwig wrote in an opinion on Saturday [Dec. 12], dismissing a Trump campaign lawsuit that accused Wisconsin election officials of violating state law and asking the court to effectively void Biden’s 20,000-vote lead and let the Republican-controlled state legislature decide what to do.” Tillman points out also that Ludwig used the word “extraordinary” three times in his decision to describe what Trump’s lawyers wanted the court to do and concluded that their claim that the system was rigged against them was devoid of evidence. Ludwig stated that the rule of law had been followed.

On December 11, “a state court judge rejected Trump’s appeal of recounts that failed to change Biden’s win in the most racially diverse counties in the state, Milwaukee and Dane counties.” Trump’s lawyers appealed “and the Wisconsin Supreme Court heard arguments on Saturday. On Monday, the state justices issued a 4-3 decision denying the campaign’s challenge, finding Trump and his lawyers had waited far too long to bring challenges to how the state ran absentee voting this year.”

On Saturday, Dec. 12, the “Georgia state Supreme Court on Saturday refused to take up Trump’s statewide election contest. The state justices wrote that they didn’t have jurisdiction to hear the case because the campaign had skipped ahead and filed a petition before there was any lower court decision to appeal. The campaign argued there was ‘significant systemic misconduct, fraud, and other irregularities’ in how Georgia ran the election, but the justices found Trump failed to show that it was ‘one of those extremely rare cases’ that they could take up right away.”

Tillman finds that the Republican Party election challenges have come in roughly two waves after Nov. 3. “The first wave largely focused on objections to specific clusters of ballots or election practices at the city and county level.” For example, in Pennsylvania, “Trump’s campaign and Republicans challenged sets of absentee ballots — ranging from several dozen to several thousand votes — where the voter didn’t include pieces of information on the outside envelope, such as their address or the date. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled those ballots could be counted.” Other cases rejected by the courts claimed “Republican poll watchers were denied access to watch ballots processed at counting sites in Philadelphia and Detroit; that late-arriving absentee ballots were improperly mingled with valid ballots in Chatham County, Georgia; and that election officials in Maricopa County, Arizona, violated state law by using computer software to verify signatures and may have miscounted ballots filled out using Sharpies. Judges rejected those cases, citing a lack of evidence, or the challengers dropped them before a judge ruled.

One of the most reported on cases occurred in Pennsylvania, where a lawsuit led by Rudy Giuliani was found by the court on Nov. 17 to “lack of understanding of basic legal principles and was forced to admit that it was not a voter fraud case — their claims were based on objections to some counties allowing voters to fix or “cure” absentee ballots with defects while others did not and issues with poll watcher access.” The state court ruled against them, following which Giuliani appealed the case to a federal appeals court. Tillman reports what the appeals court decided.

“Free, fair elections are the lifeblood of our democracy. Charges of unfairness are serious. But calling an election unfair does not make it so. Charges require specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here,” Judge Stephanos Bibas — one of Trump’s own nominees — wrote in a 3–0 federal appeals court decision upholding a district court judge’s refusal to allow Trump’s campaign to relitigate the case after it was dismissed.

The Trump lawyers did win one insubstantial case, when a judge in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania tossed “out a narrow subset of absentee ballots that arrived during a three-day window after Election Day where the voter failed to provide proof of identification by Nov. 9. The secretary of state’s office hasn’t confirmed how many ballots were affected, but the state had agreed to separate them out while the case was pending, meaning they didn’t contribute to Biden’s 80,000-vote lead in the state.”

In the second wave of suits brought by Trump lawyers, “the legal challenges morphed to increasingly mirror Trump and his allies’ lies about widespread voter fraud and wild theories of a nationwide conspiracy to rig the election for Biden.” One prominent case involved, as Tillman reports, “Sidney Powell, a Texas-based lawyer who had earned Trump’s praise for her TV attacks on the special counsel investigation into Russian election interference and her legal defense work on behalf of Trump’s now-pardoned former national security adviser Michael Flynn…. She filed lawsuits in federal court against election officials in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, and Wisconsin, alleging widespread fraud and asking judges to invalidate the results statewide.” In all four cases, the judges “rejected Powell’s claims for lack of reasonable evidence and that Powell’s “plaintiffs didn’t have standing to sue and that the cases were moot because the states had already certified results” and that Powell had been procedurally inept. The judges also condemned “the effort to have courts decide a presidential election and overrule voters.” Powell has not given up. She “is appealing all of her losses, and has petitioned the US Supreme Court to hear the Georgia case.”

Here are other examples of how Trump lawyers have failed in court from Tillman’s article.

“The Arizona Supreme Court on Dec. 8 rejected an election contest brought by Arizona Republican Party Chair Kelli Ward challenging ballots cast in Maricopa County. An analysis of a random sample of ballots showed an error rate that didn’t “come close” to meeting the threshold for a recount, the court concluded, and there was no evidence of signature forgery or other “misconduct.” Ward filed a petition on Friday asking the US Supreme Court to take the case.

“Another new case was filed in the US Supreme Court on Dec. 8 by L. Lin Wood Jr., a conservative lawyer who repeatedly lost a case he filed in federal court in Georgia challenging the election results there. In a 3–0 decision, a federal appeals court panel that featured two of the court’s more conservative judges, including Judge Barbara Lagoa, another one of Trump’s nominees, agreed with the district court judge that Wood lacked standing to bring the case. Wood has petitioned the US Supreme Court to hear his case as well.

“In Michigan, the Trump campaign recently attempted to revive a case it had lost challenging how officials in Wayne County, which includes Detroit, had managed the election and claiming poll watchers were denied access to observe ballots being processed. A judge had rejected the case on Nov. 5, and the campaign opened a case in the Michigan Court of Appeals the next day but didn’t complete the appeal until Nov. 30 — nearly two weeks after the state certified the election results.

“The appeals court rejected the case as moot on Dec. 4 and wrote that the campaign ‘failed to follow the clear law in Michigan’ that the way to allege fraud after results were certified was to seek a recount. The Michigan Supreme Court on Friday issued an order denying the Trump campaign’s effort to press the case there.”

Meanwhile, the certification of state election results goes forward

Voters do not choose the presidential and vice-presidential candidates directly

In our present complex voting system, presidential elections are not decided by the popular vote but by the uniquely American elector system. Here’s how Wikipedia describes it (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_presidential_election):

“The election of the president and the vice president of the United States is an indirect election in which citizens of the United States who are registered to vote in one of the fifty U.S. states or in Washington, D.C., cast ballots not directly for those offices, but instead for members of the Electoral College.[note 1] These electors then cast direct votes, known as electoral votes, for president, and for vice president. The candidate who receives an absolute majority of electoral votes (at least 270 out of 538, since the Twenty-Third Amendment granted voting rights to citizens of D.C.) is then elected to that office. If no candidate receives an absolute majority of the votes for president, the House of Representatives elects the president; likewise if no one receives an absolute majority of the votes for vice president, then the Senate elects the vice president.

“The Electoral College and its procedure are established in the U.S. Constitution by Article II, Section 1, Clauses 2 and 4; and the Twelfth Amendment (which replaced Clause 3 after its ratification in 1804). Under Clause 2, each state casts as many electoral votes as the total number of its Senators and Representatives in Congress, while (per the Twenty-third Amendment, ratified in 1961) Washington, D.C., casts the same number of electoral votes as the least-represented state, which is three. Also under Clause 2, the manner for choosing electors is determined by each state legislature, not directly by the federal government. Many state legislatures previously selected their electors directly, but over time all switched to using the popular vote to choose electors. Once chosen, electors generally cast their electoral votes for the candidate who won the plurality in their state, but 18 states do not have provisions that specifically address this behavior; those who vote in opposition to the plurality are known as “faithless” or “unpledged” electors.[1] In modern times, faithless and unpledged electors have not affected the ultimate outcome of an election, so the results can generally be determined based on the state-by-state popular vote. In addition, most of the time, the winner of a US presidential election also wins the national popular vote. There were four exceptions since all states had the electoral system we know today. They happened in 1876, 1888, 2000, and 2016 and were all losses of three percentage points or less.”

Safe Harbor day

On December 8, six weeks after the Nov 3 election, is the “generally accepted date by which all state-level election challenges – such as recounts and audits – are supposed to be completed” (https://nytimes.com/2020/12/08/us/politics/election-safe-harbor-deadline.html). By this time, the election results had been certified by attorney generals in all the states and are “considered conclusive.” These certified results will later be tabulated by the US Congress on January 6.  

Jan Wolfe reports that safe harbor day is “a deadline, set by a U.S. law from 1887, for states to certify the results of the presidential election (https://reuters.com/article/usa-election-safe-harbor/explainer-why-safe-harbor-day-spells-trouble-for-trump-legal-bid-to-overturn-election-defeat-idUSKBN2811DN). Continuing, Wolfe writes: “Meeting the deadline is not mandatory but it provides assurance that a state’s results will not be second-guessed by Congress. The safe harbor date falls six days before the meeting of the Electoral College, in which slates of ‘electors’ formally select the presidential nominee who won the popular vote in their home states. A candidate needs at least 270 electoral votes to capture the presidency. Biden had amassed 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 232.” After this date, Trump’s chances of overturning the election results become increasingly improbable. Nonetheless, the president has not given up and continues to claim that the election was stolen from him. Trump is now urging congressional Republican legislators in the key swing states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Georgia to come up with an alternative slate of electors to take to the Congress on January 6.

Dec 14: state electors sign off to certify their respective election results

Wikipedia again provides an informative description of this phase of the presidential election(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Electoral_College).

Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 of the Constitution directs each state to appoint a quantity of electors equal to that state’s congressional delegation (members of the House of Representatives plus two Senators). The same clause empowers each state legislature to determine the manner by which that state’s electors are chosen but prohibits federal office holders from being named electors. Following the national presidential election day on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November,[10] each state, and the federal district, selects its electors according to its laws.

“In 48 of the 50 states, state laws mandate the winner of the plurality of its statewide popular vote shall receive all of that state’s electors;[11] in Maine and Nebraska, two electors are assigned in this manner, while the remaining electors are allocated based on the plurality of votes in each of their congressional districts.[12] The federal district, Washington, D.C., allocates its 3 electoral votes to the winner of its single district election. States generally require electors to pledge to vote for that state’s winning ticket; to avoid faithless electors, most states have adopted various laws to enforce the electors’ pledge.[13]

“The electors of each state meet in their respective state capitals on the first Monday after the second Wednesday of December [this year, on Dec 14] to cast their votes, including as well Washington D.C. (3 votes).”

This was accomplished without a hitch.

January 6: The final steps

Scott Bomboy instructs us that “the next public step in the 2020 presidential election will happen on January 6, 2021, when Congress meets to validate the election” (https://constitutioncenter.org/blog/explaining-how-congress-settles-electoral-college-disputes). This final step in the electoral process conforms to a federal law that “requires the states to deliver certified electoral college results to the vice president, serving as president of the Senate, and other parties by December 23.”

Then, as required by the 12th Amendment, there will be a joint meeting of Congress on January 6 “to count the electoral votes and declare the winners of the presidential election.” According to Bomboy, “Any objections at the session must be made in writing by at least one Member each of the Senate and House of Representatives. If an objection meets these requirements, the joint session recesses and the two houses separate and debate the question in their respective chambers for a maximum of two hours,” following a process established by the Electoral Count Act of 1887 and as interpreted by the Congressional Research Service. “The two houses vote separately to accept or reject the objection. They then reassemble in joint session, and announce the results of their respective votes. An objection to a state’s electoral vote must be approved by both houses in order for any contested votes to be excluded.” If legislators from a state present an “alternative” slate of electors, one that is different from the slate already certified by the Electoral College, or if a slate is challenged without an alternative, the vice president, whose role is “to preserve order,” may allow alternative slates or the elimination of slates to be considered. This would require the two houses of the US Congress to meet separately as already described. This eventuality would open up the possibility that the duly certified slate a state’s electors could be replaced by the alternate slate or that a slate of electors from a given state could be eliminated. Either situation would change the overall electoral vote count in ways that could favor Trump. However, this is unlikely to happen, though possible, especially given the time and resources the Trump campaign has put into challenging the election results as fraudulent. 

Senate majority leader McConnell acknowledges Biden’s victory and tells his caucus not to object to the certified election results

Jordain Carney and Alexander Bolton report on McConnell’s “caucus call on Tuesday…and come as House Republicans are eyeing a challenge to the results on Jan. 6 during a joint session of Congress” (https://thehill.com/homenews/senate/530327-mcconnell-urges-gop-senators-not-to-object-to-electoral-college-vote). While “no Senate Republicans indicated during the call that they are currently planning to object,” there is news that there will be objections. On the House side, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) said “he will object as part of next month’s Electoral College count, and is likely to gain support from other Trump allies in the House.”

John Nichols finds Brooks’ threats to be serious, writing: “Brooks has been signaling for several weeks that he plans to lead a drive to object to the Electoral College result when it is formally presented for congressional review on January 6 and quoting him: ‘In my judgment, if only lawful votes by eligible American citizens were cast, Donald Trump won the Electoral College by a significant margin, and Congress’s certification should reflect that. This election was stolen by the socialists engaging in extraordinary voter fraud and election theft measures’ (https://thenation.com/article/politics/biden-electoral-college). It would not be surprising to have other House Republicans join him to challenge the elections when the reach the Congress, reminding the reader that is was only last week that “126 House Republicans, including minority leader Kevin McCarthy, minority whip Steve Scalise, and Republican Policy Committee Chairman Gary Palmer signed on to an amicus brief supporting a lawsuit by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton asking the US Supreme Court to block electoral votes from Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Georgia from being cast for Biden.” They are on the same page with Trump and his ongoing claims of how the election was fraudulent. And Brooks has at least two allies in the Senate – “Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Rand Paul of Kentucky—[who] have already indicated that they are open to backing up this political skulduggery.”

Nichols does not think those objecting to the certified state election results will succeed in changing them, as he writes: “The Democratic majority in the House will reject the objection, and it is likely that the Republican-controlled Senate will do the same, as several GOP members (including Utah’s Mitt Romney, Maine’s Susan Collins, and Nebraska’s Ben Sasse) have been bluntly critical of Trump’s efforts to overturn Biden’s victory.” However, they may well make “January 6, 2021, a chaotic day of lies and sore-loser griping from a president who refuses to accept the fact that he will soon be an ex-president.” Therefore: “Congressional Democrats would be wise to prepare, as their job involves more than merely confirming an election result for the nominee of their party. They must defend democracy from an assault by authoritarian zealots who have made it abundantly clear that they intend to use and abuse the process to thwart the will of the people.”

Concluding thoughts

Trump has not and probably will not cease doing harm to our democratic system. Undoubtedly, the society will be better off without him in the White House. But, given the seemingly slavish support of his base and right-wing media, he may still have a huge impact on the Republican Party, do what he can to undermine the efforts of the Biden administration, and continue to stoke the violent segments of his base.

According to Shane Goldmacher and Maggie Haberman, He has already accumulated $250 million from his “loyal supporters” and “with few legal limits on how he can spend it” (https://nytimes.com/2020/12/18/us-politics-trump-money-future.html). Their sources tell them that “more than $60 million of that sum has gone to a new political action committee.” This is money that could be used to “quell rebel factions within the party, reward loyalists, fund his travels and rallies, hire staff, pay legal bills and even lay the groundwork for a far-from-certain 2024 run.” A Republican pollster, John McLaughlin, is quoted: “Right now, he is the Republican Party. “The party knows that virtually every dollar they’ve raised in the last four years, it’s because of Donald Trump.” His coffers have been boosted, as “the Trump political apparatus has taken advantage of the grass-roots energy and excitement over the two runoffs [in Georgia] to juice its own fund-raising. Email and text solicitations have pitched Trump supporters to give to a ‘Georgia Election Fund,’ even though no funds go directly to either Republican senator on the ballot, irritating some Senate G.O.P. strategists.” Rather 75 percent of the donations “go to Mr. Trump’s new PAC, called Save America, with 25 percent to the Republican National Committee.” The fund-raising appeals have shifted recently from “shouting ‘FRAUD’ to “hawking signed hats and opposing socialism.” The point is, whatever his message, that Trump is not leaving the national stage and will likely continue to threaten the political stability and the democratic institutions of the nation.

At the same time, if the Biden administration and the Democrats can make some progress in addressing the pandemic and the economic and climate crises, in restoring the integrity of regulatory agencies, in protecting the rights of all citizens and residents, in being evidence-based and open to public scrutiny and concerns, then there is a chance that Trump and Trumpism will be diminished. It will take the ongoing mobilization of Democratic and progressive groups as well as effective governance.

Trump and right-wing populists dump on democracy

Bob Sheak, Dec 3, 2020

In this post, I consider how Trump contributes to the political disorder and divisions of the society and how his power rests largely on his command of a huge populous base. He did not create it, but he has been decisive in galvanizing it. The devotion of this base is reflected in its continuous support for Trump’s groundless claims that the election was stolen from him by millions of fraudulent votes. But there is more. They go with him because Trump has expressed support for their specific interests and the idea that America is and should be a country dominated by whites, a certain fundamentalist Christian religion, the freedom of individuals to own and carry unlimited weapons, with walls to keep out immigrants, and that Washington elites and bureaucrats should stay out of their lives, for example by not restricting their behavior during the current pandemic. The right-wing populous forces in the society, that have deeply-rooted historical roots and represent the major electoral support for the Republican Party, will continue to make calls for unity, more equality, and social justice contested and hard to realize. The concern is that they could eventually enable an authoritarian leader to ascend to power and end democracy.

Trump compounds political disorder

Four weeks after the election, Trump still claims that he won by millions of votes – that the election was fraudulent, that millions of votes cast for Biden are invalid, that millions of votes for him were not counted, and, absurdly, that Biden must prove to him that the 80 million plus votes he received were indeed valid votes before he concedes. At the same time, Trump received over 73 million votes (the second highest total in US history), while Democrats lost seats in the House, failed to increase Democratic control in state legislatures, and, depending on the outcome of two senatorial elections in Georgia, may not have regained control of the US Senate. In an article published in The New York Times, Will Wilkerson suggests that Democrats did less well than they expected to do because they did not have a compelling message on how to revive the economy during the pandemic (https://nytimes.com/2020/11/27/opinion/trump-democratic-coronavirus.html). Thomas B. Edsall provides numbers of the Democrats’ poor performance, writingIn battleground congressional and statehouse districts, the same pattern appeared over and over again this year. At the top of the ticket, Joe Biden won, often handily. Further down the ticket, in contests for seats in the House and state legislatures, Democratic candidates repeatedly lost…. with Republicans gaining 179 state legislative seats and at least 11 seats in the House of Representatives (https://nytimes.com/2020/12/02/opinion/biden-trump-moderates-progressives.html). This an issue of why the Democrats did not realize their electoral expectations is for another post. The point now is that Trump lost the election, he refuses to concede that he has lost, and he is riling up this huge electoral base to believe that the election was stolen from him.

Not conceding despite the mounting evidence

While Trump has not yet conceded the presidential election, his chances of overturning the election results in contested states is increasingly unlikely. Jessica Corbett reports that even William Barr, Trump’s seemingly compliant Attorney General, says there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud.” She writes:

“Sparking immediate and widespread speculation that he will soon become just the latest top official ousted for publicly countering President Donald Trump, U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Tuesday told the Associated Press that the Justice Department has not found any evidence of voter fraud that would impact the result of the 2020 presidential election.

“‘To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election,’ Barr said of the November 3 contest in which President-elect Joe Biden’s decisive victory denied Trump a second term. In the wake of his defeat, the president and his campaign have made unfounded fraud claims and filed numerous lawsuits even as states have certified their results.

A ruthless and partisan cascade of actions

 In the meantime, Trump is using his last days in the White House to issue pardons, continues to go ahead on the legal front, fires officials in administration and executive branch agencies who have not demonstrated insufficient loyalty, opens up yet more public land to corporate interests, doing as much as he can do to undermine Biden’s presidency, and continuing to claim that he only lost the election because of widespread, systemic fraud. On this last point, how could he do otherwise and still be consistent in what he has continuously told his base since the election. Trump’s base is the main source of his power.  

Of course, when it comes to the larger political situation, there is more to the story than Trump and his steadfast base. There is a Republican Party that is devoted to neoliberal economic policies that favor corporate elites and the rich, that wants to minimize government aid to the poor, that denies or wants to do little or nothing to address the climate crisis, that is content to do offer little relief for those negatively affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. There is a Supreme Court that is ready to provide legal sanctification for right-wing lawsuits. But in the present post, I focus on Trump and his base and how they represent a threat to democracy.

A base of stalwart followers who disregard “evidence”

Richard Heinberg, author of 13 books and a senior fellow at the Post Carbon Institute, maintains that Trump is trying to make Biden’s presidency “ungovernable (https://commondreams.org/views/2020/11/20/real-plan-make-america-ungovernable), writing that “Trump’s claims of election fraud have convinced many Republican voters and he has led his base to reject ‘evidence,’ while simultaneously “Trump & Co. can nevertheless salt the earth with disinformation and with resentment among the Republican voting base, making it impossible for the incoming Biden team to accomplish much.” Heinberg continues: “Claims of election fraudulence may prove highly effective to that end: up to 70 percent of Republicans apparently think the vote was hacked by Democrats, even as there is “no evidence of widespread malfeasance, and Republican lawsuits related to the election are being thrown out by judges in state after state for lack of proof. Still, Trump has spent four years training his followers to regard ‘evidence’ as something you make up on the spot to suit the needs of the moment; for the faithful, mere accusations are sufficiently convincing.”

Noam Chomsky, American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, historian, social critic, and political activist, warns us of the “extreme fragility of American Democracy” (https://truthout.org/articles/noam-chomsky-trump-has-revealed-the-extreme-fragility-of-american-democracy). He writes:

I suspect that Trump and associates regard their legal challenges as a success in what seems a plausible strategy: keep the pot boiling and keep the loyal base at fever pitch, furious about the “stolen” election and the efforts of the insidious elites and the ‘deep state’ to remove their savior from office.

According to recent polls, ‘Three-quarters (77%) of Trump backers say Biden’s win was due to fraud’ and ‘The anger among Trump’s base is tied to a belief that the election was stolen.’ Rejection of the legal challenges with ridicule may please liberal circles, but for the base, it may be simply more proof of the Trump thesis: the hated elites will stop at nothing in their machinations.”

“Millions of Trump’s supporters seem to believe that their leader actually won the election. In fact, there have even been signs claiming, ‘World Knows Trump Won.’ In light of this, it seems to me that the contemporary United States is not simply a divided and polarized nation on political and ideological issues alone, but that we also have alternative epistemologies in operation: one segment of the population believes in actual facts and relies on science for an explanation of the world, while another segment of the citizenry is under the spell of falsehoods, disinformation and deception. How do you explain this peculiar phenomenon, especially since we are talking about a very rich and technologically advanced country?”

“It is amazing enough that someone whose malevolent decision to provoke an out-of-control pandemic has just killed tens of thousands of Americans can even run for office, even carry much of the country with him, and that the political party that virtually shines his shoes can win a resounding victory at every level apart from the White House. That’s putting aside Trump’s major “achievements”: driving to near-term environmental catastrophe and sharply increasing the threat of terminal war, crimes that scarcely registered in the electoral process.

“Viewed through the lens of this vile strategy, if the pandemic gets worse, so much the better. Then local officials will try to impose restrictions and even lockdowns to control patriotic Americans — in line with the plans of the supposed ‘Communist-run deep state’ — leading to economic harm and intrusions on normal life. Meanwhile, Trump and his associates could abandon other normal governmental activities so that when Biden establishes what they describe as a ‘fake government’ on inauguration day, the immediate problems will be severe and failure likely.”

The evidence mounts against Trump

Elise Viebeck and Josh Dawsey provide an update for The Washington Post on the failed efforts by Trump’s legal team ((https://washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-pennsylvania-legal-setback/2020/11/25/ba01c3aa-2141-11eb-860d-f7999599cb2_story.html).

They failed to win the support of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to “invalidate more than 2.5 million votes in Pennsylvania, as temporary order blocking further certification of election results.” Biden had won the Pennsylvania vote by 81,000. The Republican plaintiffs were “retroactively challenging the state’s mail-voting system, calling into question virtually every contest that took place there on Nov. 3 and asking for judges to take the unprecedented step of voiding election results across the state.” On November 25, the case was initially put on hold on the certification process by “Commonwealth Court Judge Patricia A. McCullough, who was elected as a Republican in 2009, “pending an evidentiary hearing.”

Later the same day, state officials appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, triggering an automatic stay of McCullough’s order. State officials then asked the state high court to step in and dismiss the case altogether, arguing “that the “Commonwealth Court’s Order threatens to disrupt the certification of every race in the 2020 general election; foreclose the seating of elected representatives; indefinitely postpone the December 1 start of the General Assembly’s term; undermine the will of the voters; and cast a wholly unwarranted cloud over Pennsylvania’s election results,” lawyers for the state wrote in a filing.”

Then, according to an article by Jon Swaine and his colleagues at the Washington Post, Republicans appealed the case to a federal court in the 3rd Circuit, requesting “an emergency injunction to overturn the certification of Pennsylvania’s election results” (https://washingtonpost.com/politics/federal-appeals-court-rejects-trumps-request-for-emergency-injunction-to-overturn-certification-of-pennsylvania-election-results/2020/11/27/556540ba_30d7-11eb-bae0-50bb171226614_story.html)

The federal court denied the request, “delivering another defeat to the president’s attempts to reverse the outcome in a state that has already formalized President-elect Joe Biden’s victory there.” According to Swaine et. Al. “the 3rd Circuit said that the Trump campaign’s challenge of the district court’s decision had ‘no merit,” in an “opinion…written by Judge Stephanos Bibas, who was appointed to the court by Trump.” Moreover, “Bibas was joined by two other Republican-appointed judges in a unanimous vote by the three-member panel.

Viebeck and Dawsey point out that “Republicans have gained no substantive traction across more than two dozen cases trying to undo results favoring Biden since Election Day, and as of Tuesday [Nov. 24], four of six states where President Trump tried to overturn the outcome have certified Biden’s win.”

The election results have not at the time been finalized in Wisconsin, where a recount of votes was underway in the state’s two largest counties of Dane and Milwaukee. Biden had won the state by 20,000 votes and by the end of Tuesday, Trump had gained only 52 votes in the recount. By Friday, the recount in Wisconsin had added 132 votes to Biden.

In Georgia, at the president’s request, a machine recount was underway of the state’s 5 million presidential votes, with the expectation that the final result would be certified on Dec. 2.

In Arizona, the “Republican Party Chairwomen Kelli Ward asked a judge to begin examining ballots and envelopes ahead of what she said would be a formal election contest filed after certification,” which is consistent with an “Arizona law [that] allows any voter to challenge the results of an election on the grounds that illegal votes were cast or that election officials engaged in misconduct. To succeed, Ward would have to show that Trump actually received the most votes in the state, which appears unlikely given that Biden’s margin of victory is greater than 10,000 votes.” As it turns out, as reported by Greg Sargent for the Washington Post on Nov 30, 2020, “Arizona has now certified its election results, making President-elect Joe Biden the official winner of the state. He won by a hair more than 10,000 votes (https://washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/11/30/biden-just-officially-won-arizona-thats-big-deal-democrats).

Yet, Trump doesn’t concede

Trump has sent out confusing messages. On the one hand, he seemed to concede the election to Biden when on Thursday, Nov. 26, he said that “he would leave the White House if the Electoral College formalized Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s election as president” (https://nytimes.com/2020/11/26/us/politics/trump-election-georgia.html). He also seemed to concede implicitly when he allowed the General Services Administration (GSA) to allow Biden team to obtain public funds to run their transition, receive security briefings and

gain access to federal agencies to prepare for the Jan. 20 takeover. On the other hand, he has continued to “reiterate his baseless claims of fraud that he said would make it ‘very hard’ to concede. Then, speaking “in the Diplomatic Room of the White House after a Thanksgiving video conference with members of the American military, the president insisted that ‘shocking’ new evidence about voting problems would surface before Inauguration Day.” The president added: “It’s going to be a very hard thing to concede because we know that there was massive fraud,” that “he had won the vote by a significant margin,” and that “We were robbed. We were robbed. I won that by hundreds of thousands of votes. Everybody knows it.”

Inside a dysfunctional, but dangerous, Trump-led White House

Philip RuckerAshley ParkerJosh Dawsey and Amy Gardner, Washington Post journalists, provide information on what’s going on in the White House

(https://washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-election-overturn/2020/11/28/34f45226-2f47-11eb-96c2-aac3f1662215d-story.html). Their report is based on interviews with 32 senior administration officials, campaign aides and other advisers to the president, as well as other key figures in his legal fight, many of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to share details about private discussions and to candidly assess the situation.”

As noted, Trump remains unconvinced by the evidence that he has lost the election but the reporters learn more. His behavior in his inner circles has been erratic, disruptive, and confusing.  They write: “Sequestered in the White House and brooding out of public view after his election defeat, rageful and at times delirious in a torrent of private conversations, Trump was, in the telling of one close adviser, like ‘Mad King George, muttering, ‘I won. I won. I won.’” His aides are unwilling to contradict their boss out of fear of his attacks on those who contradict him – and his ability to rile his base into a twitter rage against such people. They put it this way: “Trump empowered loyalists who were willing to tell him what he wanted to hear — that he would have won in a landslide had the election not been rigged and stolen — and then to sacrifice their reputations by waging a campaign in courtrooms and in the media to convince the public of that delusion.”

Trump’s behavior has brought confusion and inaction in the government. Rucker and his colleagues capture the thrust of it all as follows: “The 20 days between the election on Nov. 3 and the greenlighting of Biden’s transition exemplified some of the hallmarks of life in Trump’s White House: a government paralyzed by the president’s fragile emotional state; advisers nourishing his fables; expletive-laden feuds between factions of aides and advisers; and a pernicious blurring of truth and fantasy….Though Trump ultimately failed in his quest to steal the election, his weeks-long jeremiad succeeded in undermining faith in elections and the legitimacy of Biden’s victory.

According to the sources Rucker and his colleagues interviewed, Trump has continued to “reiterate his baseless claims of fraud that he said would make it ‘very hard’ to concede. Then, speaking “in the Diplomatic Room of the White House after a Thanksgiving video conference with members of the American military, the president insisted that ‘shocking’ new evidence about voting problems would surface before Inauguration Day.” The president added: “It’s going to be a very hard thing to concede because we know that there was massive fraud,” that “he had won the vote by a significant margin,” and that “We were robbed. We were robbed. I won that by hundreds of thousands of votes. Everybody knows it.”

Trump’s ranting and assertions resonate beyond the White House. Rucker et. al. write: “Trump’s allegations and the hostility of his rhetoric — and his singular power to persuade and galvanize his followers — generated extraordinary pressure on state and local election officials to embrace his fraud allegations and take steps to block certification of the results. When some of them refused, they accepted security details for protection from the threats they were receiving.” In the final analysis, Trump’s power and bizarre behavior lie in the unquestioning support he gets from his base.

Why the right-wing base adheres to Trump

By virtually all accounts, the massive right-wing “base” will continue to support him, that is, most of the almost 74 million people who voted for him.  If it turns out this way, Biden’s hope for a unified America is little more than wishful thinking, especially when you take into account the likely intransigence of the Republican Party and the interests of corporate/rich America. Withal, the base plans a decisive role. It will ensure that the deep partisanship that now divides the society will continue and be reflected in politics at all levels of the society. The base is ultimately where Trump’s political power lies. It gives Trump the power to continue his dominating influence in the Republican Party and be a critical factor in whether Trump mounts another presidential campaign.

White supremacy

As many have noted, Trump did not create the base but he helped to catalyze and enlarge it. The origins and sustaining conditions are varied. It is reflected in the desire of many whites to consolidate white supremacy as a dominant feature of the society and in the fear that brown and black skinned Americans will in the near future be a majority of the population. While sadly it is alive and well today, the origin of white supremacy – and systemic racism – has a long historical legacy.

In her book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, award-winning author Isabel Wilkerson documents the deeply embedded racism that has existed in the country since the first slaves were brought to his country in 1619. She refers to it as one part of a “caste” system, reflecting the preexisting notions of early settlers to their racial superiority, reinforced by their self-interested interpretation of the Bible, and created a hierarchy of who could do what, who could own what, and who on the top and who was on the bottom and who was in between….the upper-rung people would descend from Europe, with rungs inside that designation, the English Protestants at the very top as their guns and resources would ultimately prevail.” African Americans were at the bottom (p. 23) In one of her most telling paragraphs, she writes about today’s Trump voters as follows.

“Many voters, in fact made an assessment of their circumstances and looked beyond immediate short-term benefits and toward, from their perspective, the larger goals of maintaining dominant-caste status and their survival in the long term. They were willing to lose health insurance now, risk White House instability and government shutdowns, external threats from faraway lands, in order to preserve what their actions say they value most – the benefits they had grown accustomed to as members of the historically ruling caste system.”

They are, in part at least, responding to “[t]he precarity of their lives and the changing demographics of the country [which has] induced a greater need to maintain whatever advantages they had come to expect and to shore up the one immutable characteristic that has held the most weight in the American caste system” (p. 325).

Right-wing religious convictions

Trump’s popularity also grows out of his public willingness to join forces with nationalist-oriented Evangelicals. Wilkerson points out that Trump has made their priorities his priorities – “ending abortion, restricting immigration, protecting gun rights, limiting government, and…the disdain for science and the denial of climate change” (p. 330).  Katherine Stewart has devoted an entire book to the political influence of Evangelicals – The Power of Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism. According to Stewart’s probing and well-documented analysis, Christian nationalists believe, for example, that the U.S. was founded as a Christian nation, that it should be given primacy in politics and all institutional arrangements, that is, there should be no separation between the state and religion, that those chosen to be the country’s leaders should hold Christian beliefs, that public schools should include Christian teachings, the parochial schools should receive public funds and access to public facilities. They are one of Trump’s principal and devoted constituencies. Whether Trump mounts another presidential campaign or not, this is a political force that is, at its core, opposed to progressive values and priorities and will continue, with or without Trump, for years to come. For those of you interested in this topic, I recommend Andrew L. Seidel’s book, The Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism is Un-American.

Delving further into Trump’s “populous” base and what it stands for

I have written about the populous base at some length. My point, again, is that it is unlikely that Biden will be able to win the support of this huge right-wing, grass-roots disparate coalition and “unify the nation.”

The multifaceted “populous” base, comprising many of the close to 74 million voters who just case their vote for Trump, representing about 47 percent of all voters. Hacker and Pierson emphasize, in their book, Let Them Eat Tweets: How the Right Rules in an Age of Extreme Inequality, that “America’s version of right-wing populism began to surface well before Trump – in fact, well before the financial crisis.” The appeals for the populous base are in many cases “racially tinged, involve strong identities and strong emotions… that draw a sharp line between ‘us’ and “them” (p. 22) and are ‘best suited to single-issue groups, cultural institutions such as churches, and certain kinds of media” (p. 23).

The power of the president and the Republican party hinges on this electoral base of support as well as support from the rich and powerful. Hence, support has been garnered over time from a variety of right-wing groups, including, those who want unlimited gun ownership, evangelical groups that favor the end of reproductive rights for women and an end to the separation of religion and the state, groups that want a virtual end to most or all categories of immigration, groups that want to preserve white supremacy and reject as myth the racist and discriminatory history that is so central to the dark side of American history. Trump has a friendly relationship with far-right, sometimes armed, groups support the reopening of the economy, who demonstrate for white supremacists’ values or a reactionary concept of “freedom.” But beyond the particular interests, Trump is also viewed by these supporters as having the ability to transform the government in a way that will make “America Great Again,” put an end to the intrusion of government bureaucrats in their lives, and protect their communities from a secular culture.

Fundamentalist evangelicals see support in the plutocracy for their opposition to women’s reproductive rights and to LBGTQ interests and want the plutocrats to select “conservative” judges to the Supreme Court and federal judiciary that favor “the traditional family” and support for white Christian institutions. The National Rifle Association likes the plutocrat’s opposition to any meaningful gun regulation. Among other – or most – right-wing populists, the anti-immigration policies of Trump and his administration are strongly supported. Cutting across such issues is the desire of the right-wing populous base to maintain their “superior” white status at a time when demographic changes threaten their majority position in society. Hacker and Pierson say that “the racism-focused narrative takes various forms.

“Some emphasize contemporary forces: the incessant race-baiting of Donald Trump; white backlash against the nation’s first black president; the anxiety generated by the ongoing shift toward a ‘majority-minority’ nation. Others emphasize the deeper historical roots of white identity. Yet all these accounts suggest that race is the cleavage that defines American politics.” They also emphasize, too, that this cleavage reflects “deep psychological attachments that are easily triggered and highly resistant to change. In this respect, they present a ‘bottom-up’ perspective, emphasizing the underlying resistance of key parts of the white electorate to the shifts in status and power that demographic change entails” (p. 9).

There is a certain antagonism in the right-wing populous base toward government, not because of its economic policies, but because of policies that constrain their non-economic “rights” and/or reduce the advantages of their “whiteness.” There are a host of organizations that represent the various segments of the right-wing populous base and they are major players in educating, mobilizing, and engaging voters in the base to support the Republican Party. On this point, Hacker and Pierson write: “As the GOP embraced plutocratic priorities, it pioneered a set of electoral appeals that were increasingly strident, alarmist, and anti-government extremism, the party outsourced voter mobilization to a set of aggressive and narrow groups: the National Rifle Association, the organized Christian right, the burgeoning industry of right-wing media.

An example: Rural America has been, by and large, for Trump and the Republicans

Robert Wuthnow, professor of social sciences at Princeton University, has studied rural communities in America, one of Trump’s sources of support. He and his assistants have visited hundreds of these communities, “studied their histories, and collected information about them from surveys, election results, exit polls, censuses business statistics, and municipal records” (The Left Behind: Decline and Rage in Small-Town America, p. 3). He points out that “30 million Americans live in small towns with populations of fewer than 25,000 residents.” The US Census tallies 44 to 50 million people in what it labels “rural communities.” Exit polls in the 2016 election “showed that 62 percent of the rural vote went to Donald Trump” (p. 1).

Wuthnow finds that the “moral outrage of rural America is at the basis of support for Trump – and involves a mixture of fear and anger. The fear is that small-town ways of life are disappearing. The anger that they are under siege. The outrage cannot be understood apart from the loyalties that rural Americas feel toward their communities” (p.6). They are concerned about declining populations, school closings, businesses leaving, and jobs disappearing. But it is more importantly about cultural issues. They are angry about government bureaucrats who promote diversity, about “moral decline” reflected in the bank bailouts, the sexual promiscuity available on the Internet, the prevalence of crude language on television, about their opposition to reproductive and LBGTQ rights and immigration. Withal, they will vote for Trump again because they like his patriotic slogans, his militaristic foreign policy, his denigration of the media and liberal elites, his anti-immigrant policies, his Christian/evangelical connections, and the misperception of him as a political outsider. It remains to be seen whether the COVID-19 pandemic, now increasingly affecting rural communities, will change their minds about Trump.

Reactionary Populism gained new life under Trump

Along with all the rest, Trump and the right-wing political forces supporting him have gained strength from the growth of a reactionary populism since the 1990s, including “local militias, Christian fundamentalists, and the Tea Party among them.” Carl Boggs, professor of social sciences at National University in Los Angeles, points to how Trump benefited, as 35 percent of his presidential vote come from evangelical constituencies (Fascism Old and New: American Politics at the Crossroads, pp. 12-13). His presidency has “apparently lent new legitimacy to the evangelical movement, especially the selection of Mike Pence as vice-president and Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. As American society moves ever rightward,” Boggs writes, “evangelicals have grown in numbers, organizations, media presence, and general influence. They work indefatigably through state legislatures, PACs, think tanks, conferences, and medical outlets to carry out ‘God’s work, hoping to Christianize secular institutions, beginning with education, bringing ‘family values’ and patriotism to the forefront.” Boggs thinks that they “could help to solidify a social bloc behind fascistic tendencies….” (p. 13).

Historian Kathleen Belew documents the growth of another source of Trump’s “popular” appeal in the American white power movement in her book, Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America. Here is some of what she found.

“While white power featured a diversity of views and an array of competing leaders, all corners of the movement were inspired by feelings of defeat, emasculation, and betrayal after the Vietnam War and by social and economic changes that seemed to threaten and victimize white men. White power also qualifies as a movement through its central features: the contiguous activity of an inner circle of key figures over two decades, frequent public displays, and development of a wide-reaching social network.

“White power activists used a shared repertoire of actions to assert collectivity. Public displays of uniformed activists chanting slogans and marching in formation aimed to demonstrate worthiness, unity, numbers, and commitment to both members and observers. Activists encouraged dress codes and rules about comportment and featured the presence of mothers with children, Vietnam veterans, and active-duty military personnel. Members showed unity by donning uniforms and by marching and chanting in formation. They made claims about their numbers. They underscored their commitment with pledges to die rather than abandon the fight; preparing to risk their lives for white power; and undertaking acts that put them at legal and physical risk. A regular circulation of people, weapons, funds, images, and rhetoric – as well as intermarriages and other social relationships – bound activists together” (pp. 10-11).

And they thrive.

“The state and public opinion have failed to sufficiently halt white power violence or refute white power belief systems, and failed to present a vision of the future that might address some of their concerns that lie behind the more diffuse, coded, and mainstream manifestations” (p. 239).

The threat of violence

The white power movement, ultra-nationalistic, racist, xenophobic, anti-Semitic, armed, opposed to progressive values and ideas, poses no threat to the power elite. They represent the potential street fighters against those who criticize the existing power structure from progressive and leftist points of view. They have been riled up by Trump’s efforts to delegitimize the presidential election and convince his base that the Democrats stole the election from him. In an article for The Nation, Kali Holloway expresses concern that the president’s inflammatory rhetoric may provoke violence (https://thenation.com/article/politics/trump-election.html). Here’s some of what she writes.

“Democracy maintains domestic peace by ‘the mere fact that the political forces expect to take turns,’ political scientist Adam Przeworski has noted. When people believe their votes literally don’t count, they become more likely to resort to violence. Trump’s supporters, already steeped in white grievance, are predictably receptive to the idea that ‘illegal voters’ have even succeeded in stealing their democracy. Apparently not satisfied with all their ill-gotten political gains from real voter suppression—in the form of voter ID laws, gerrymandered districts, closures of polling sites, and purges of voter rolls—Republicans are now signaling that a Democratic win is itself evidence of fraud. Trump and the GOP used birtherism to delegitimize the first Black president in US history. Now Republicans are casting Black and brown citizens as illegitimate voters to invalidate the Biden presidency.

“The potential for violence here isn’t just theoretical. As ballots were being tabulated in Arizona, Nevada, and Pennsylvania, armed Trump supporters swarmed vote-counting centers, and gun-toting election denialists have gathered at Georgia’s Capitol as the recount proceeds. After thousands of Trumpists, including plenty of white supremacists, marched in Washington, D.C., to protest nonexistent vote theft, members of the Proud Boys allegedly rioted against counterprotesters, and ‘other Trump supporters ripped multiple Black Lives Matters signs off a building before trampling on them,’ according to the Times. An Alabama police captain announced via social media that Biden voters deserve ‘a bullet in their skull for treason,’ and an Arkansas police chief urged his followers to ‘throw water on [Biden voters] at restaurants. Push them off sidewalks. Never let them forget they are traitors and have no right to live in this Republic after what they have done.’ (Both officers resigned after outcries.) Claiming the election had been ‘fraudulently stolen from us,’ a Trump supporter in the New York City borough of Staten Island advocated online for the ‘extermination of anyone that claims to be a democrat.’

“Once out of office, Trump will use every bullhorn at his disposal to spread misinformation and foment violence. His tweets will push debunked election fraud lies, and he’ll portray himself as a martyr slain by a corrupt and unfair electoral system. His rallies will continue—he’s already begun dangling a 2024 run—to keep his fragile ego from shattering and to scare off other GOP contenders. If he launches a conservative digital outlet, as rumored, it will ensure that viewers believe he is the one and only source of political truth. You get the picture: Trump will keep denigrating democracy to elevate himself. Yet again, this president’s selfish gains will be America’s loss.”

And the threat of violence from the right is happening now. Richard Fausset reports that Trump’s ongoing unfounded claims about a fraudulent election is inciting violence action in Georgia, where two seats for the US Senate are still being contested (https://nytimes.com/2020/12/01/us/politics/georgia-election-trump.html). Fausset quotes a statement by Gabriel Sterling, a voting system official in Georgia, who has “harshly criticized the president for failing to condemn threat of violence against people overseeing the election in the state.” Here is what Sterling said.

“It has all gone too far. All of it. Joe diGenova today asked for Chris Krebs, a patriot who ran CISA [Goergia’s Certified Information Systems Auditor], to be shot. A 20-something tech in Gwinnett County today has death threats and a noose put out, saying he should be hung for treason because he was transferring a report on batches from an E.M.S. to a county computer so he could read it. It has to stop. Mr. President, you have not condemned these actions or this language. Senators, you have not condemned this language or these actions. This has to stop. We need you to step up, and if you’re going to take a position of leadership, show some. Death threats, physical threats, intimidation. It’s too much. It’s not right. They’ve lost the moral high ground to claim that it is. This is elections. This is the backbone of democracy. And all of you who have not said a damn word are complicit in this.”

Concluding thoughts

All the evidence at this time indicates that Joseph Biden electoral victory will be confirmed and that Trump will have to leave the presidency on January 20, 2021. Biden and his administration will face a challenging time. Even before Biden takes, office there is a desperate need for US Congress – and Trump – to sign off on a “relief” legislation that would ease some of the economic pain that affects millions of Americans. But, even when Biden takes office, the pandemic will still be raging. There will be continuing a massive problem of unemployment, along with low-wage, no-benefit and insecure jobs. Millions of people will be unable to pay their rents, with a rising number homeless. Fifty million people are already “food insecure.” State and local governments are short of revenues, thus detrimentally affecting public health and education systems. The climate crisis steadily deepens, and Biden will face a Republican Party that will oppose any meaningful steps to address any of it.

Much of what a Biden administration can accomplish will depend on whether Democrats have a majority voting position in the U.S. Senate. Even then, the political calculous will be unpredictable, with some “moderate” Democrats and Republicans playing unconventional roles that depart from party expectations. McConnell will continue to be a highly partisan Republican leader in the Senate and do everything he can to advance his party, regardless of the general societal impacts.

Through it all, the right-wing populous forces will continue to exist. They will be more effective if galvanized by their present leader, Trump, but with or without him (perhaps less cohesive without him), they are a powerful political force that wants an America that disavows a society based on multi-cultural influences and progressive norms, values, and aspirations. Democracy is not one of their priorities.